A Canuck (as in Vancouver, not just some Canadian guy) blogger has written a great post about the Thrashers' acquisitions of black players in the past year and about race/nationality in the NHL in general.
It is well worth the time to read. In it, he states that bringing in an underrepresented race to the locker room, as long as the players belong there *cough*Brashear*cough* is a far different thing than excluding players on the basis of race. He points to what he believes to be an example of the latter in the Indiana Pacers locker room. I am not sure that I agree with his example, but I know nothing other than what he has written about the situation.
He goes on to compare bringing black player to Atlanta to stockpiling Francophone players in Montreal or Western Canadian players in Vancouver.
I have certainly harbored a desire to have more American born players on our team in the past, for the simple reason that they are more like me than Canadian or European born players. Of course they are all very much UNlike me in that they are good at hockey, except for Chris Tamer.
Our issue in building a fan base in Atlanta goes farther than race, as I pointed out in the comment section of that post. There is a hostility towards hockey here. I encounter it when my friend Brad makes his trite comment "there ain't no ice outside! Why aren't we watching the Dawgs?" I encounter it every time Jeff Schultz deems to write about the Thrashers.
Hockey is foreign to Atlantans. Folks in their late 30's or older may remember the Flames and have passing memories of the Knights, but they didn't grow up with the game and the vast majority have never worn a pair of skates.
We still need more rinks in Atlanta. People need the opportunity to play hockey in order to grow to love it. Soccer requires nothing but a ball. Ditto for football, in the back yard at least. Basketball just needs a ball and one of the nets that is ubiquitous around the country. Baseball only requires a ball, gloves, and a bat.
The two sports that have the hardest time bringing in new fans, and in particular, fans of races that generally occupy lower socio-economic categories, are golf and hockey. Why? Perception and money.
People think of golf and hockey as white sports. They think of golf, at least, as an elitist sport. That's because both sports are very expensive to play.
In golf, you have to acquire clubs, balls, and cleats, then pay for the privilege to play or even to practice hitting balls. In hockey, you have to buy skates, pads, a helmet, gloves, a stick, and pucks, then you have to pay for the privilege to play or even to practice. You can practice in your driveway on expensive roller blades or in your shoes with a tennis ball, but that doesn't translate to the real game.
If we want hockey to become accepted in Atlanta, we have to make hockey accessible to more Atlantans. We need more rinks, and we need programs to get poorer kids on the ice. We need to find ways to get skates on poorer kids feet and sticks in their hands, then get them on the ice.
We don't have the advantage of our Canadian brethren who can enjoy free ice time outdoors from November through April. We have to pay to skate year round and take turns.
The best way to improve hockey's footprint here is going to be through programs to get as many kids on the ice as possible. We need programs with community pads and skates that get sanitized then passed out to the next kid as one kid outgrows them, and we need rinks to lower their fees while expanding their leagues to make up in volume what they are losing in individual fees.
If you've felt what it's like to step out onto the ice before a game, taking those first few strides on the fresh ice and lined up for the first puck drop of the night, then you're going to love hockey no matter what. You will watch a Japan/Belerus international match because you love the game.
Catching potential fans' attention with faces that resemble their own is all well and good, but they won't truly be won over until they've learned to tape a Koho and pass a water bottle over the heads of ten teammates without sending it flying onto the ice.
For the Blueland Chronicle, I'm Razor Catch Prey.