Hockey deserves brighter spotlight

With the football season just ending, and baseball yet to start, a lot of Pennsylvanians feel this time of the year marks a lull in the sporting world.

This assumption couldn’t be more wrong.

The NHL season is in full swing, and the game is growing in popularity, with the 2018 Stanley Cup final boasting the league’s highest viewership to date.

The game has had no trouble spreading into the local area, either.

Hollidaysburg product Sam Lafferty was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014 and is currently playing for their minor league team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Hockey is the native sport of our nearest neighbor, Canada, but has a cultural impact on this country and the local area to boot.

In 2015, Kraft Foods joined forces with the NHL to launch the Hockeyville USA program. The program asked hockey communities across the U.S. to showcase why they are the greatest hockey community in the entire country.

The winner would receive $150,000 in rink upgrades.

The first winner was Johnstown, just down the road.

Johnstown has had a long hockey history, dating back to the 1950s, with the Johnstown Jets, then the Johnstown Chiefs and now the Johnstown Tomahawks.

And, of course, the legendary movie, “Slapshot,” starring Paul Newman, was filmed in Johnstown in 1977.

Beyond that, Penn State has one of the top college programs in the country, consistently being ranked in the top 20.

The local communities around the country, as well as the NHL, are doing everything possible to promote the game. This universal campaign has created a sense of companionship not emulated by any other sport.

Hockey fans just love hockey.

This could be, in part, due to the dangerous nature of the game, but it might have more to do with with the fact that the hockey world is so welcoming.

This in no way makes the competition less fierce. The Penguins-Flyers rivalry is considered one the most entertaining in all of sports, complete with frequent brawls.

Hockey is above all entertaining. It is a fast-paced, hard-hitting game, rewarding any viewers who spend a little time learning the somewhat convoluted rules.

So instead of turning your attention away from the sporting world until spring starts, you might take the time to get acquainted with hockey — and Altoona is the perfect place for it.

Penn State and Johnstown are both just a short trip away, and PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh boasts a chance to see the world’s best player, Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby.

Hockey’s culture will continue to grow in the coming years, but right now, it’s a golden age in this area.

Benjamin Thayer is a senior at Penn State Altoona majoring in Letters, Arts and Sciences.