The U.S. suffered a tough loss last night to arch-rival Canada. It stings. But you know what? Even though it stings, at least American hockey fans feel something when it comes to the World Junior Championship now. A lot of that has to do with the rivalry factor, but if that’s going to help continue to build interest in the tournament, then great!
Being able to engage with folks through this blog and Twitter has proven to me that this is an event that matters to American hockey fans. This is an event that people are interested in and want to care about. I think that’s such a great step.
Think about this. The World Juniors went from an internet AUDIO broadcast only on USAHockey.com in 2007, to partially televised on NHL Network US (through TSN’s feed) in 2008 and 2009, to having every U.S. game on TV on the NHL Network, with an internet simulcast on FASTHockey.com. Amazing. No matter where you were, if you wanted to watch the game, you could.
Furthermore, USA Hockey and NHL Network got Gary Thorne in the booth, which I know delighted guys like me that grew up watching the NHL on ESPN. Having a noted hockey broadcaster calling the games brought some notoriety and familiarity to each game.
The print and web coverage has been outstanding, this year, as well. NHL.com, USAHockey.com, USA Today, the Buffalo News, to name a few, and hockey blogs around the country had outstanding coverage of the entire tournament this year. That’s only going to help. Add Twitter and Facebook to the equation and you’ve got constant conversation.
An event like the World Junior Championship being something that people watch and get excited about in the United States is so encouraging to not only international hockey fans, but fans of the NHL. The average National Hockey League fan is beginning to become more knowledgeable and more well-rounded. More importantly, they want to become more well-rounded. They want to become hockey fans, not just fans of the league or their favorite NHL team.
As us die-hards know, once you start learning the ins and outs of the game, you’re locked in. You constantly need more.
Because fans are becoming more knowledgeable, I think a guy like Jack Campbell is more a household name in hockey circles for his performances at the World Juniors and less because he was the 11th overall pick in the 2010 Draft. That means something.
Certainly, a U.S. victory last night would have been better than the loss to help continue this upward trend of interest, but the national pride and passionate homerism in the build up to the game was palpable. Sometimes even a little rabid. That’s a really fun thing to see.
I talked to Cam Eickmeyer, managing editor of USAHockey.com, after the game last night and he told me this: “USAHockey.com’s WJC site did more traffic by puck drop tonight than the entire day of the gold medal game last year.”
Eickmeyer then told me that by the end of the night, traffic on the site was double for last night’s game compared to the previous year’s golden match-up.
I’m not just spouting off here, there’s some tangible evidence that interest is growing.
The World Junior Championship will always mean more to Canada, but the fact that it matters at all to American fans is heartening. In some small way, it’s proving that hockey’s influence is growing in this country. There’s a lot to like about that.