Loins have been girded. High ground has been claimed, lost, reclaimed, and maybe even lost. Fortunes have been made, and dreams have been dashed. All over the current state of hockey’s “poverty” teams, particularly those now set to face off in the Conference Finals. Since three are located in southern states (North Carolina, Texas, and Florida), and Vegas is not known for a deep hockey tradition, many have claimed this is the downfall of hockey. The sport will henceforth be doomed to the slag heap of the sports world.
As a hockey fan relatively new to the sport, and one living in North Carolina, I can only watch this debate from a distance, with an admitted unobjectively viewpoint, and remain confident in my opinion without the need to defend it.
The same hockey purest who argue against teams like Carolina or Florida, Dallas, and Vegas are the same fans who 60 years ago said the ABA was inferior, hit more than 713 homeruns, or go undefeated in an NFL season.
But as a hockey fan in 2023, I have news from those folks and an example to prove my point.
While I did once attend, unintentionally, a Nashville Predators’ practice, I do not count that as a first exposure to hockey. No, my hockey origin story starts in North Carolina and is unabashedly centered around the Carolina Hurricanes. Until this year’s “Frozen Finley” game between North Carolina State and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I had not been to a hockey game in person besides those of the Carolina Hurricanes.
My fandom is admittedly limited. The Canes, the Carolina Thunderbirds, the Fayetteville Marksmen, and a mercenary fandom of whatever AHL team Carolina affiliates with. I tangentially follow the Buffalo Sabres as that city is one of my favorites, and very good friends are Sabres fans, thus a knowledge of them is polite for conversation. Besides that, I only pay attention in relation to how it affects the Hurricanes.
But this “poverty franchise”, “small market” debate is anathema to me.
Other sports have grown to markets beyond their origins and we as sports fans are better off for the growth. Hank Aaron belted all of his home runs for expansion teams. Dr. J played for “small market” franchises and expansion teams folded into the “traditional” league at one point or another. I am pretty sure Miami was never considered the center of the football universe until 1972.
Diversity and expansion is needed for survival. It’s been proven time and time again.
Those hockey fans who argue against it are usually left to shrivel and die on the vine. They will be pushed out, or ignored by fans like this one in North Carolina who has watched more Stanley Cup Playoff games in the past 3 years than he has World Series games, and Super Bowls in 10.
If the powers that be want to say hockey in North Carolina is wrong for making a fan out of someone who at 5 and 6 chose the hockey highlights during his morning SportsCenter binge as the perfect time to brush his teeth, than maybe those making such claims should re-evaluate what they deem correct.
North Carolina is a hockey state, and we all know that. Anyone who doesn’t see it can just yell into the void from the presumed high ground. Those of us in the Caniac nation are better off ignoring those hockey fans who would look down on us. When we don’t pay attention to them, their protestations will be relegated and seen in the future with the same level of comedy of those thought dunking a basketball would kill basketball forever, or that no one would ever hit more than 713 home runs.