Mark Dayton did his gubernatorial duty and declared this to be “Stadium Series Weekend” for the state of Minnesota.
Of course he did.
Sunday’s outdoor hockey game between two NHL teams and played in a large stadium is such a monumental and unique event that it will not be repeated until the following Saturday, when the Detroit Red Wings play the Colorado Avalanche in Denver’s Coors Field.
The main event between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Wild on Sunday afternoon will be preceded on Saturday with an alumni game featuring ex-Hawks and ex-North Stars.
There are also former Wild players on the Minnesota roster. These young ringers mean the ex-Hawks have less chance to win this game than the current Hawks have to lose a playoff series to the Wild.
There will be impressive crowds announced for both the alumni and the real game, and the local media outlets (particularly television) will pass this along as further evidence that Minnesota truly is the State of Hockey.
When it comes to winter sports, I’m not arguing, particularly with the major leagues: NHL vs. NBA, Wild vs. Timberwolves.
The attendance figures reflect performance of recent seasons, as well as an indication of general interest.
The leagues both have 30 teams. The Wild is eighth in the NHL with an announced average of 19,052 (106 percent of seating capacity). The Timberwolves are 29th in the NBA at 14,136 (73 percent).
What’s more intriguing for me as a media guy is what happens when a positive opinion is offered on the NBA. The comments are filled with rancor. Many of these criticisms are from hockey fans with no tolerance for basketball; others are from naïve folks with a preference for the increasingly sad game of college hoops in comparison to a dynamic NBA.
I’ve been in Fort Myers, Fla., for a couple of weeks. When out of town and driving, I’m hitting scan on the radio and often listening to sports conversation — either shows from the region or one of the national networks.
This struck me once again, as it has for quite a few years in varied sections of the country:
We have no idea of the NBA’s national popularity in our outpost of hockey fondness. There were a couple of lingering Super Bowl topics, namely Cam Newton’s failure to dive for a fumble and his postgame sulking, and a 20-year-old accusation against Peyton Manning, but for the past week this is what I’ve encountered:
Near wall-to-wall NBA talk.
It’s not strictly a plot by ESPN because of media deals with the NBA. CBS Sports Radio has the bulk of time on a sports station in this area. CBS has no affiliation with the league, yet there has been no end to NBA interviews and debates.
One conversation involved Ric Bucher, a national NBA reporter, going on almost poetically on the thrills that the Wolves’ Zach LaVine and Orlando’s Aaron Gordon brought to the dunk contest Saturday at the NBA All-Star extravaganza.
Bucher pointed to calls in recent years for the dunk contest to come to a merciful end. And then he added if that advice had been followed, “we” would never have been able to take in the greatness of the duel between LaVine and Gordon.
The “we” in this case would be the 7.6 million viewers on TNT and the hundreds of thousands catching replays of LaVine’s winner on highlight shows or YouTube.
You can call it theater and point out that dunks for show mean nothing in a player’s development, but recognize this:
Zach LaVine, an irregular starter in his second year with a non-playoff team, is now a more well-known athlete in America than Zach Parise, one of the more admired forwards in the NHL.
A hockey coach can demand “no more stick checks” and talk about players being “accountable,” and this definitely plays with hockey loyalists. In Minnesota, that is a large and loud enough minority to give credence to the State of Hockey branding.
Nationally, hockey-speak doesn’t sell. Nationally, hockey remains a cult.
The NBA had 6 million more viewers watching a cartoon of its sport (West 196, East 173) in the All-Star Game than did the NHL with the 3-on-3 action that it attempted to ballyhoo.
Go ahead, Minnesotans.
Congratulate yourselves on fine taste as you peer from the football seats toward the ice on our Governor-approved Stadium Series Weekend, while also understanding that across the country sports fans are much more interested in debating topics such as:
Is Stephen Curry already an all-time great?
(My answer: I’m not sure, but he’s much better than Jonny Flynn.)
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org