With both National Hockey League teams and our own Concordia Stingers men’s and women’s teams preparing for the upcoming hockey season with training camps and exhibition games, it brings many emotions. First off, it felt great to look at the front page of Monday’s Gazette and see a picture of the Canadiens celebrating a goal in their first game in over 500 days (no, I didn’t count them myself). It does raise a very interesting question, however, when looking at both men’s and women’s University hockey.
Last year, due to the lockout, it wasn’t unusual to see reporters from the Gazette and the Journal de Montreal at games, ditto for Global TV and CTV. In fact, it almost became a regular occurrence, especially when the regular season started turning into the playoffs. Now that Les Glorieux are back, will these local news outlets keep on showing the same kind of coverage they did before the lockout ended? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. It’s easy to have a two-minute spot on the sports segment of the 11:00 news, but once you factor in the five minutes, at least, devoted to the Canadiens every night, it becomes unlikely that TV will have room for University hockey. In newspapers, it may be a little more likely as both the Gazette and the Journal de Montreal have covered University sports often, and are continuing to do so with football coverage in both papers. But the newspapers won’t only be adding a story on the most recent Habs game, but also a full page of recaps and standings which, depending on the size of the sports section, leaves little room for anything else.
Another thing we saw during the lockout was CBC’s reality show Making the Cut. What it did was hold auditions for people who wanted a chance to try out at an NHL training camp. It shone the spotlight on several Canadian Interuniversity Sport athletes, including Concordia goaltender Trevor Cunning and St. F.X. goaltender Michael Mole, who actually got “drafted” by the Ottawa Senators and was invited to their training camp. With the NHL season back, it is unlikely that another season of the show will take place. I asked Bob Gainey during the lockout if the show might cause more scouts to come and watch University hockey and he didn’t say a definite yes or no, but it is unlikely. What you may see is lower leagues in North America, such as the LNAH, ECHL or even AHL look at university players, which might provide them a stepping stone to the NHL.
And what about the attendance? Fans will be flocking to the Bell Centre and understandably so, as the Canadiens finally have a team that will be able to contend for the division title. What about the fans who were starved for hockey and came to Concordia or McGill to watch the only hockey in town? Will they be back? Probably not. What about hockey-starved students? Will they be back? Hopefully. The Ed Meagher arena is a fun place to be when there’s a huge crowd, especially in a Concordia-McGill game.
I guess my point in all of this is that University sports need all the publicity they can get. The mainstream media in this city are definitely trying to make that a priority, and that’s true for all amateur sports, not just university sports.
Since I’ve only seen what happens when there is no NHL, it will be interesting to see what happens now that hockey is back. Obviously I hope it stays the same or increases, but that seems unlikely.
People have now been exposed to the University game who probably wouldn’t have been due to the absence of professional hockey in the past year. Let’s hope they remain interested and we see big crowds at the Ed Meagher arena throughout the next season, and beyond.