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Hockey deserves more time

January 20, 2008
By Jared Pufka,
I have been a hockey fan ever since I was born, and I believe it is one of, if not the most, exciting sports in the world.

However, in recent years hockey has been downplayed and is now almost extinct from the American sporting world. Hockey is extremely underexposed in this country.

ESPN and other networks need to increase more “air time” for “ice time.”

I am glad that NBC hosts weekend games and the Stanley Cup, but that is not enough to help get the NHL back into the limelight. I check the channel Versus daily to see if the NHL will be broadcast.

Unfortunately, I am usually met most weeknights with hunting, fishing or bull riding. However, ESPN is the worst. After working night shift, I come home and watch Sportscenter to recap what I missed during the night.

Of course, I am looking for hockey highlights of the Red Wings and Penguins. I have to watch and wade through 45 minutes of predictions and overanalyisis of the NFL and NBA before I get a two-minute highlight of two of the seven games played that night.

The Top 10 plays expose unbelievable hockey goals or saves that they failed to produce during the show.

Weeknights during the fall are filled with diluted college football games, and the most ridiculous “event” ever put on ESPN, or TV in general — poker.

I really do not understand why hockey is not a premier sport in America. It is fast paced, tough and hard hitting. Players are skating at ridiculous speeds, slamming each other into the boards, scoring incredible goals, and goalies are making jaw-dropping saves.

An average shift length in hockey is about 50 seconds. That may not seem long, but I challenge anyone to skate as hard as they possibly can non-stop for that length of time.

Watching a game on TV does not give any justice to the speed at which these players are moving. Seeing these world-class athletes move effortlessly on the ice is a thing of beauty.

Hockey players are the toughest athletes in the world, period. Hockey players take sticks, pucks, hits and punches to their bodies. They get stitched up and get back out on the ice. Hockey is just as physically demanding as football.

The NHL season is 82 games in length compared to 16 for the NFL. In addition to 82 games, the NHL has four rounds of playoffs to crown a champion.

The lockout season damaged the marketability of the NHL, but ESPN should not penalize the NHL for a work stoppage. Major League Baseball has had eight work stoppages and a World Series cancellation. The NBA had a 191-day work stoppage that canceled games and threatened to cancel a season. Even the almighty NFL has had work stoppages in 1982 and 1987. The media seem to forgive and forget, and all the other sports have returned to national television channels. Simply stated, the NHL should return to ESPN. Ten years ago, ESPN had a decent schedule that balanced between NHL and NCAA basketball.

The glory of the Stanley Cup needs to be exposed. It is the most recognizable and prestigious sports trophy in the world.

The most recent Winter Classic game played on New Year’s Day with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins was one of the greatest sporting events I have ever watched. Not only was I able to watch one of my two favorite teams, I was able to see hockey being broadcast to the country in the midst of bowl season.

The snow added a unique, nostalgic atmosphere for hockey. A total of 75,000 people were present at Ralph Wilson Stadium to experience this event. I applaud the NHL for an interesting way to broadcast hockey.

Perhaps this will be the event that can kick start hockey and bring it back into the main stream.

Jared Pufka resides in Altoona.

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