Hockey Weekend Across America: In Review

Well, the national hockey holiday has come and gone. Hockey Weekend Across America, without a doubt, was bigger and better than ever. The added exposure thanks to an incredibly produced Hockey Day in America on NBC was a huge boost.

Let me start by saying that, by far, the most commendable thing that happened throughout the entirety of Hockey Weekend Across America was the fact that more than 5,000 children spread out over 200 rinks across the country tried hockey for the first time for free on Saturday. That total tops last year’s number of 3,000+. Giving kids a chance to discover the game is a big part of why Hockey Weekend Across America was started.

More importantly, HWAA was designed to energize the hockey fan base in this country, and I think we can all say that certainly happened this year. The fact that 200 hockey rinks from across the United States were generous enough to open their doors to kids looking for that first little nudge onto the ice is nothing short of incredible.

Another big boost to this year’s HWAA came in the form of social media. USA Hockey’s social media presence gave fans and USAH members the chance to interact in a way not previously possible. Thanks to its recent presence on Facebook and Twitter, with over 200,000 followers combined on the two platforms, the organization was able to engage its audience. Imploring its followers to send in pictures in jerseys or taking part in HWAA activities, it showed that participation was widespread. Being able to gauge the effectiveness of each facet of the weekend through social media was something USAH was unable to accomplish in its three previous editions of HWAA. That leads me to believe that the weekend should be bigger and better as the USA Hockey PR and marketing staff has new feedback through the wonders of social media.

Additionally, social media has helped fans engage with other fans. I had many Twitter conversations with people regarding all things American hockey over the weekend. It appeared that both the #HWAA and #HDIA hash tags were well used and it allowed fans to celebrate together in a whole new way.

It should be noted that the NHL’s involvement also appeared to be at an all-time high this year. With all of its American-based teams getting involved, Hockey Weekend Across America awareness grew. Promotion of the event on NHL broadcasts, NHL.com and in NHL arenas spread the message to fans from around the league. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that it is important for the NHL to help make more hockey fans and not just NHL fans. The sport will be able to grow to new heights if we see more people falling in love with more than just one team.

USA Hockey, the NHL and NBC should all be commended for making this edition of Hockey Weekend Across America the best yet.

Coming up after the jump, a review of NBC’s Hockey Day in America coverage and HWAA-related links.

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NBC’s Hockey Day in America — Success? You bet.

The addition of NBC Sports Group’s unprecedented hockey coverage on NBC and VERSUS was certainly the most important advancement in Hockey Weekend Across America’s overall reach. Hockey Day in America took the ideas behind Hockey Weekend Across America and CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada and combined them in a way I don’t know any of us thought would be possible in this country. At least not yet.

It was a bold move by NBC to spend the money, with some help from McDonald’s serving as the primary sponsor, to put on a television event of this magnitude on a saturated sports weekend with the NBA All-Star Game and the Daytona 500 both taking place on Sunday.

With three staggered regional broadcasts, the big national game with Chicago and Pittsburgh, and the finale at the Heritage Classic, NBC sent a message to hockey fans on Sunday. The NBC Sports Group is committed to hockey, it believes in hockey and it believes in hockey fans.

The programming never felt “dumbed down” to me. I was able to watch both the Minnesota-Detroit contest and the “Game of the Week” and the broadcasts were informative, but not too soft. I thoroughly enjoyed the pairing of Pat Foley and Darren Pang for the Detroit-Minnesota game. Insightful and exciting, the duo really added to the game for me.

There is no question in my mind that Mike Emrick is a future U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer and maybe should already be in. No broadcaster has been as informative or as important to American hockey. Just nobody. He’s called some of the greatest games in U.S. hockey history (VIDEO: 1996 World Cup Final and both the 2010 USA-CAN OLY prelim game and the 2010 OLY Gold-Medal Game just to name a few) and has brought such passion and enthusiasm to every broadcast. How could you not fall in love with the game listening to him?

He and Eddie Olczyk brought so much information and insight into the Chicago-Pittsburgh game on Sunday. Heck, even Pierre McGuire was in on the act, when he wasn’t judging the mood on the Blackhawks bench or getting up close and personal with Matt Cooke.

They call the game for hockey fans and make it interesting enough to non-fans with their enthusiasm for and knowledge of the game. All three would throw in tidbits about certain players, as they always do, but even more this time around. There may be no person in broadcasting that cares as much about every single level of hockey than Doc Emrick. He plugged just about every league he could fit in at the end of his broadcast just to make sure they got the NBC publicity. You don’t do that unless you care. He does. Deeply.

The features about celebrity hockey, pond hockey, women’s pro teams and Fort Dupont minor hockey were all beautifully shot and produced. The message of each was distinct and effective and easy to relate to for fans and the less in the know. Shedding light on Fort Dupont and its founder Neal Henderson, in particular, is invigorating for people involved in hockey. You can’t listen to that man speak and not be inspired. I felt those features went a long way in promoting the game.

Having Millennium Park in Chicago as a backdrop for the pre-game show worked really well, too. Having all of those kids out there practicing and playing and having fun is what makes other kids want to pick up sticks and get on the ice. Even a steady rain wasn’t going to keep those kids off the ice. It also helped put some of the great American Development Model-led initiatives for practice on display, if you were watching closely enough.

I also want to give kudos to Liam McHugh who steered the pre-game show and intermissions extremely well as a host. I like Dan Patrick and Bob Costas, but having McHugh, who has been hosting for NHL Overtime on VERSUS, made me more comfortable. Costas is great for the Winter Classic, but McHugh gave Hockey Day a fresh face and a guy who showed that he knows a thing or two about the game. He also was easily able to handle the sometimes overwhelming Mike Milbury. I was a little nervous about McHugh at first, but he performed very well on Sunday. It’s always good to see a young, up-and-comer succeed with an opportunity like hosting a big event for NBC Sports.

Steve Lepore took a comprehensive look at NBC’s Hockey Day in America coverage on his outstanding blog, Puck the Media. I think Lepore really hit the nail on the head, here:

Most importantly, however, they made six hours of hockey (nine if you count VERSUS) seem like the only logical thing to spend your Sunday afternoon doing. It certainly seemed that way to me.

There certainly wasn’t anything else I would have rather been watching Sunday.

UPDATE: Lepore got his hands on the ratings for Hockey Day in America. All-in-all, they were pretty darn good.

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It felt like there was more media coverage from around the country than ever before for Hockey Weekend Across America. Here are just a few of the clips from around the U.S.:

– The Jeff Klein of the New York Times had an outstanding story about the growth of hockey in the “non-traditional” areas. Make sure to check out this graphic as well. Keep in mind that attendance numbers don’t always tell the whole story about whether or not hockey is working in a certain market. The game has grown exponentially since the NHL went south. Also check out Klein’s blog posts related to his article: “Where Hockey Is Growing, State by State” and “Hockey’s Heartland, State by State”.

– ESPN.com actually had wall-to-wall HWAA coverage and I have to say, there was a ton of great stuff. Scott Burnside did a really nice job of showing off the celebration in a number of areas. Make sure to check out some of the videos Burnside has posted, particularly his chat with ADM regional manager Bob Mancini for some great quotes on the newest initiatives in youth hockey.

– You can always count on Kevin Allen of USA Today to keep you in the loop regarding American hockey. He had a piece leading up to Hockey Weekend that set the stage a little bit. He’s always got his finger on the pulse of USA Hockey and is a very well respected hockey writer. When it comes to informing hockey fans, Allen is one of the greats.

– Joe Yerdon of ProHockeyTalk.com, NBC’s NHL blog, wrote about college hockey’s influence on the NHL, as far as producing players. Focusing on the teams that were playing during Hockey Day in America, Yerdon lists the college hockey alums that were on display. He also covered the fact that the NCAA has continually improved its product, making it an even more viable option for a player with NHL aspirations.

– Special thanks to Joe Proulx of the fantastic Backyard-Hockey.com, Matthew Ventolo of the New Jersey Devils blog, In Lou We Trust, and Chris Dilks of the Western College Hockey Blog for linking to this blog this weekend. Be sure to check out their fantastic work.

– NHL.com had tons of coverage, so be sure to take a look at its HWAA-related stories.

– Lastly, as a freelance writer for RedLine Editorial, I get to do a lot of stories for USAHockey.com. There are few that were as fun to write as the one I recently did for Hockey Weekend Across America. Check out this story about 82-year-old Paul LeGloire, who has been organizing pick-up hockey games for 30+ years in Burbank, Calif. Paul is tremendously passionate about hockey and he says he’ll only quit when he becomes the worst player on the ice. I also interviewed actor Mark DeCarlo for the piece, who you may remember from his guest spot on Seinfeld as Alec Berg. Mark’s a great hockey guy, and spoke glowingly about Paul.

If you have your own thoughts about Hockey Weekend Across America or Hockey Day in America, share them in the comments or hop into the discussion on The United States of Hockey Facebook page. Do you have a favorite part of the weekend or were there some things you didn’t like?

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: In case you didn’t know, one year ago today, the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team defeated Canada, 5-3, in the preliminary round of the 2010 Olympic Winter games in Vancouver. The win, punctuated by Ryan Kesler’s dramatic and brilliant empty-net goal, was a statement to the rest of the hockey-playing world. A team that was not expected to fare well in the tournament, the United States put in an absolutely gritty performance against the host team and sent our northern neighbors into a near national meltdown. Of course, Canada would come back a week later and defeat the U.S. in the gold-medal game in overtime, but January 21, 2010, will still go down as one of the greatest dates in American hockey history.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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