Tonight, we say good bye to the year that was. 2010 was about as good a year as you could hope for if you’re a hockey fan in the U.S. So let’s take a look back at the year that was.
The NHL continues to build a larger following and TV ratings have steadily risen. There’s been so much to enjoy about the league. The product the NHL is giving to the general public is just outstanding.
USA Hockey can also look back on the last year with immense pride. There was so much good done for the sport in the U.S. at the grassroots, national team and Olympic levels.
2010 was the year that started with a bang. John Carlson’s overtime winner against Canada made him an instant hockey celebrity and gave the World Juniors a face in the U.S. Busting up Canada’s five-year streak of gold medals is something any American hockey fan can get on board with. Each of Team USA’s games were aired on the NHL Network for the first time and it really gave a boost to the exposure of the tournament. It was an impressive feat.
2010 was the year that Olympic Hockey captivated a nation. No, not Canada. The United States. Team USA’s dream run with a young and inexperienced team made temporary hockey fans out of anyone with a little red, white and blue in their blood. The Olympics turned Ryan Miller from a well-known hockey star into a national celebrity. The enthusiasm surrounding the team was just a blast to see. That two weeks of hockey was about the most fun I’ve ever had watching the sport on TV. Surrounded by my NTDP co-workers for almost every game, we just marveled at the fact that this team was making it happen. I was never more proud to have worked for USA Hockey than I was during that run. When Team USA lost to Canada in the final, I uttered an audible expletive in a room full of strangers, but as I walked away from the TV set I couldn’t help but think how well the game was served by that gold-medal match-up. It might not have converted a ton of people to become full-time hockey fans, but it made them more aware of the game. That’s a great start.
2010 was the year that USA Hockey dominated in international play at the U20 level and below. U.S. teams won every major under-20 tournament on the men’s side this past year. The U.S. earned the title at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge with a 2-1 win over Team Ontario that was broadcast live on the NHL Network in the U.S. and TSN in Canada. Less than 24 hours later, Carlson was down on one knee, pumping his fist as the U.S. took gold at the World Junior Championship. The U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team won its second consecutive gold medal with a 3-1 victory over an Adam Larsson-led Sweden team in Belarus. The tournament cemented Jack Campbell’s status as perhaps the best American goalie prospect in a long, long time.
These three titles, all in the same calendar year, led to many a paranoid column in Canada. Is the U.S. really catching up to us? Might they pass us? It was funny to read, but in some cases they had a point. Winning these tournaments is some kind of proof that the top-end American players are catching up to and in some cases surpassing the top-end Canadians. I don’t know if the U.S. will ever have the star power of Canadian players, but they are making a darn good effort to. Hockey in the U.S. is really beginning to take off at the developmental levels, so WATCH OUT, Leaf.
2010 was the year that the Chicago Blackhawks ended a 49-year drought and won the Stanley Cup. The fact that Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal was so fitting. An American kid, first overall pick and a face of that franchise. Kane cemented his status as an NHL star and had a lot of fun while doing it. When a big-market team like Chicago is rocking, its just better for hockey. The interest in that team is at an all-time high, which hopefully they can sustain through a fairly rough 2010-11 season. That Blackhawks team was as lovable as any and they made it great fun to watch.
2010 was the year that HBO made some of the most entertaining hockey television I’ve ever seen. This year’s 24/7 is as good as it gets folks. Never has a hockey team allowed that type of access and we’re all the better for having seen it. Us fans love to get inside the dressing room and see these guys up close and personal. We get to see how an NHL coach motivates multi-million dollar athletes that are supposed to know everything already. 24/7 might be one of the best marketing pieces for the NHL since, well… I guess the Winter Classic.
Personally, 2010 was also the year that I ended a three-year run at USA Hockey, bittersweetly. As I made the family decision to move to Iowa in search of starting a family and leading a bit more of a “normal” life, I couldn’t help but think about all I was leaving behind. I’m happy I made that decision because it led me back to one of my true passions: writing. So 2010 was also the year I started this little blog in the hopes of giving American hockey fans a voice and a place to read about some of the lesser known hockey events and players in our country. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response it has received from those reading it. So thank you for taking the time to indulge my ramblings and commenting on posts. It’s been an absolute blast. I can’t wait to continue it in 2011 and beyond!
Happy New Year, Everyone!