Mulhall column: Hockey scoring more fans nowadays

Mitch Mulhall
Mitch Mulhall.

It’s that time of year again — the Stanley Cup playoffs are underway.

I gauge the slow onset of western Colorado spring by the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament — along with Charles Barkley, Spike Lee and Samuel Jackson commercials that have been entertainment gold for several years — and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The latter follows on the heels of the former. Once the NCAA tournament is over and usually before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin, you can put the snow shovels away, gas up the lawn mower, and juice up the hummingbird feeders without consulting a to-do list.

It’s a rite of spring, the Stanley Cup.

My interest in hockey bloomed in recent years, perhaps because hockey may have been the one winter sport curiously absent in the Glenwood Springs of my youth.

Sure, one winter in the late 60s the volunteer fire department poured a rink on the southeast corner of Vogelaar field parking lot, and it lasted a few days before the freezing and thawing turned it rotten.

This has changed, of course. Now there’s a covered rink at the Community Center where our local high school boys hockey team — a hybrid squad from several area schools — practices.

It’s worth repeating here that the GSHS hockey team went all the way to the state championship this year, and though they lost in overtime, theirs was an admirable campaign that was fun to follow. Well done!

It’s good to see our high schools embrace sports like hockey.

Where professional sports are concerned, hockey has begun competing with the NFL for my affection.

For one, hockey is mostly politically incorrect: It may be the one team sport that actually considers fighting part of the game. Sure, a player may get penalized for fighting, but it’s a physical game, and cheap shots—and payback—are part of it.

Moreover, compared to the NFL, hockey doesn’t care much about how woke it is. There are no helmet slogans, pink skates, or color rush jerseys in hockey, and that’s just fine by me.

Like the NFL, there have been rules changes in the NHL, but most in hockey have been designed to improve the game. For example, there is a concussion protocol, but in a sport that probably needs one even more than the NFL, player health and longevity improves the game.

Moreover, NHL teams used to have thugs, real knuckle draggers who could barely stand on skates and made night club bouncers look like ballerinas. They would congregate around their goalie and physically punish anyone who came within reach.

Now, however, nearly every member of a team is first and foremost a skater, and what some folks can do on skates can be jaw dropping. Speed is the new NHL, and it’s fun to watch.

With the high-test game speed, thankfully there are high-res TVs. Before 1080p, you couldn’t even see the puck. You had to look for the guy with his stick on the ice, and that was just a good guess.

TV networks even tried attaching trailers, like tiny contrails, to the puck so viewers could figure out where it was. Fortunately, high-res TV displaced the need for it. To my aging eyes, the puck looks like a fast-moving floater, even on our Samsung SmartTV, but at least I can still see it.

Not everything about the NHL is peachy, however.

For one, regular season is hard to follow because of blackout restrictions. If the Avs are playing at home before a less-than-sell-out crowd, you can’t watch the game on TV, even if you subscribe to a network that carries it.

The NHL might want to rethink this. Blackouts may not be the best way to expand a fan base.

Likewise, the NHL drafts by lottery. That means a team who finishes last may or may not get a most sought-after player in the draft. Take this year’s draft, for example. The Anaheim Ducks finished dead last, yet in the lottery they ended up with the second pick behind Chicago. On a draft system, the NFL has it right.

Despite these weaknesses, I think the NHL stands poised to take a bite out of the fan bases of football and other sports with its strictly blue-collar sports fare. There simply isn’t another sport in which after a player get smashed in the face with a puck and skates slowly toward the bench while staunching blood, an announcer says matter of factly, “Looks like he may head to the locker room for repairs.”

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father, and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at

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