15 June 2007

Hockey in Hamilton

In a development which is causing some stir north of the border (US border that is), there looks to be a chance that Canada may gain another NHL franchise. This would reverse a trend of Canadian teams relocating to US cities: the Quebec Nordiques to Denver in 1995 and the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in 1996.

The possible northward movement involves the Nashville Predators moving to Hamilton, which sits roughly in the middle of a triangle formed by Toronto, Buffalo and Detroit. Just looking at this geography, it seems that Hamilton would be a much more of a hockey town than Nashville.

In anticipation of the move, or perhaps in need of a lever to get the team out of Nashville, Jim Ballsille, the potential new owner of the Predators, has started asking fans and supporters for season ticket and skybox deposits. As reported on CHML, a Hamilton radio station, “47 hundred lower bowl, 25 hundred upper bowl and 60 suites have been sold so far.” That’s good news for Hamilton and, in my opinion, for hockey.

Hockey is not a top-tier sport in the US, and it probably never will be. While hockey will always have its ardent fans and followers (just like any major sport), it just isn’t woven into the wider sports culture in the US. To the contrary, hockey is part of Canadian culture, and in a way that US sports fans really can’t appreciate. A Saturday night game in Vancouver has a very different atmosphere than one in Dallas or Chicago. The excitement is palpable, like a Texas high school football game.

That excitement can be spread, but not relocated. If NHL hockey moves back to its core support areas and re-ignites interest, I think it will be healthy for the game. I just hope, if Mr. Ballsille does get his wish that he also changes the team name. I’ve never been fond of “Predators”.

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