A little Ron and Don may help sell the game in the U.S. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
Fantasy playoff pools, especially in Canada, will soon be in full swing. But here’s a hockey fantasy for both sides of the Canada-U.S. border:
It’s moments before the championship-clinching Game 7. The teams are NHL executives versus all U.S. sports fans. The tilt has the potential to attract millions of new American fans to a professional sport too few of them follow.
In strides Mark Messier at his fiery best. Sweat pours off his battered face; he’s been called up to add a dimension of leadership to a team that has lost its way.
The first player Mess confronts is long-serving captain Gary ‘Betsy’ Bettman. The Moose grabs Betsy by the throat and throws him up against the brick wall.
“Betsy, you’ve got to change your freaking style immediately!” snarls No. 11, spit rocketing from his mouth, his eyes digging deep into Bettman’s soul. “It’s simply not good enough to float around and not aggressively drive the goal. The goal is to attract more freaking American fans to NHL hockey, so get moving before I rip your head off!”
Betsy is left trembling. He takes stock of his talent and options at hand and decides Mess is correct. He marches across the dressing room (some would later say it was his epiphany as a player) and stands nose to chin with assistant team captain Bill ‘Deputy’ Daly. In an instant of pure courage and leadership, Betsy barks, “Deputy, your No. 1 goal is to rally the troops to get NHL hockey on the map in the States. We’ve been at this way too long. We are the experts. Let’s stop chasing little, one-time events like outdoor games and go for the throat.”
The Deputy, smelling opportunity to make his mark on the game, recalls a great suggestion made by 30,000 fans a year ago. Without missing a beat, he states, “I have the perfect game plan. My plan will attract many new fans and allow the NHL to challenge big-league players like the NBA in a few short years.” Betsy and Mess shoot the Deputy a speak-great-ideas-now-or-lose-your-respect-forever look.
The Deputy says the NHL’s TV marketing effort has been Yashin-like for far too long. He says every well-managed team carefully monitors its strengths and weaknesses and attempts to build on its strengths and correct its weaknesses. The NHL’s weakness is its televised product in the U.S. It ranges from mediocre to absolute crap, depending on the station or network producing the game.
With his voice steadily rising, he says the gold standard for televised hockey is Hockey Night in Canada on CBC. Fans on both sides of the border already know this, but the NHL fails to acknowledge the prize firmly in its grasp. The Deputy’s rant culminates with one statement: “Hockey Night in Canada should be beamed into American households every Saturday night and it will become our signature night just like the NFL’s Monday Night Football.”
The dressing room goes silent. Many seconds later Mess and Betsy start nodding in approval. Then, they start smiling. A group hug ensues and soon all three are wearing smiles so broad that tendons are being stretched beyond their facial limit.
They quickly start shooting for the top corner. Mess giggles at how a few classic Don Cherry tirades will perfectly suit the American crowd. Betsy worries about convincing a U.S. network this crazy Hockey Night in Canada idea is a good one. Mess gets serious again for a split-second and hollers, “Keep your eye on the prize, Betsy!” Bettman snaps out of it and starts extolling the positive aspects of this idea again.
Americans will laugh with delight at the quirkiness and truly cool notion of watching Canadian-spawned hockey on Saturday nights – one well-publicized weekly matchup featuring an American club versus a Canadian team.
Betsy’s eyes start to well up with tears and he screams in a high-pitched voice, “My 30 owners are going to like the exposure and love the money.”
The team is now fully prepared to play its best game ever.
The co-founder of the NHL Fans' Association, Jim Boone is the chief operating officer for the Canadian Resident Matching Service and the president of Litnets Inc.