Of rants and rage

DAVID W. UNKLE -- Special to SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 1:11 PM ET

The NHL it's not, but the lack of network and fan interest in the World Junior Championships should serve as just another wake-up call to Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow (and anyone else that's listening).

With apologies to NASCAR fans, hockey's weak foothold as the fourth major sport is about to be supplanted by the likes of soccer and lacrosse.

ESPN televised a mere four games involving the U.S.A.: two against Russia and Belarus, and two playoff contests against Sweden and Russia.

On its face, the decision to only televise those games may not appear surprising to the average fan but the U.S. team were defending the gold medal earned in 2004.

If that wasn't enough, the United States was the host country.

The games featured the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, and Patrice Bergeron, future household names in the NHL.

What ESPN provided as coverage for the final televised game was embarrassing.

Darren Pang's ice side coverage notwithstanding, the duo of Barry Melrose and John Buccigross (sitting back in Connecticut rather than at the rink) spent more time talking about everything else but the topic at hand.

Following the game, hockey immediately fell back into the abyss known as American television.

No updates, no analysis, no interviews.

Forget about the USA and the Czech Republic vying for the bronze medal.

You had to be there to see it.

And the gold medal game between Canada and Russia; you had a better chance of watching it on your television in Siberia than in the good, old USA. As far as American TV coverage of the games was concerned, Canada (and the other teams in their grouping) seemed to be a mere afterthought.

Arguably, Canada's team was its best lineup. Ever.

This diatribe isn't just about the pathetic coverage of the Games by ESPN; it's about the failure of USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, and the NHL to help promote their product.

So what did ESPN have on the air in place of the World Junior Championships?

Instead of Canada versus Russia, hockey fans were treated to the new, exciting sports of poker and "classic" boxing.

And here I thought one reason that hockey failed to break into the mainstream was the result of fighting during the game.

So is boxing less violent than a hockey game?

For those folks who missed out, Canada outscored their opponents, 32-5 in round-robin competition en route to their fourth consecutive finals appearance in the tournament.

There were about 50,000 less fans than in Halifax during the 2003 tournament with the figures bumped by the many Canadian fans that filled the stands in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The most impressive fact of the tournament was that Canada never trailed throughout the entire tournament en route to a 6-1 gold medal victory over Russia.

I guess everyone is resigned to the fact that "growing the sport of hockey in the United States" is just another hollow catchphrase.

And thanks to ESPN for confusing the words "sport" and "game".

David W. Unkle is a freelance football, hockey writer and host of The Topcat Sports Show on WNJC 1360-AM in the Philadelphia (PA) market. David can be contacted at: topcat4469@comcast.net or via the Show's website at http://www.topcatsports.org

(Betsy Alexander contributed to the story.)


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