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The Continuing Rise in Hockey Popularity Worldwide

As a winter sport, ice hockey has defied all odds to become one of the most popular and richest among the professional sports leagues around the world.

Despite a relatively limited fanbase because of the seasonal nature of its playing field, ice hockey is in the elite company of Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) in terms of unimpeded growth, commercial viability, and future. 

A study conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business has revealed that National Hockey League (NHL) fans in North America are the most educated and affluent among all the four major leagues in the United States and Canada, outpacing even the rich crowd following the PGATour. 

Ice hockey is the top sport in Canada, the birthplace of organized hockey competitions, where it outranks MLB, NFL, and NBA in popularity and fan support.  This attraction translates into higher gate receipts, more advertising revenues, and more lucrative merchandising and commercial rights for NHL, at least in the Great White North.    

NHL’s largest demographic fan base consists of males aged 18 to 34, so organizers have shifted to digital technology to reach this computer-savvy market and promote game-related activities. including sports betting. Seen on https://www.oddsshark.com/nhl/computer-picks, for example, is a good illustration to how real-time online insights are used to promote the sport and sports betting on the side.

The NHL was launched in Montreal on November 26, 1917, to take over the operations of the National Hockey Association (NHA), its predecessor, which had been organized in Ontario in 1909.  It assumed NHA’s place as one of the leagues that competed for the Stanley Cup.  

After a series of disbandment and league mergers, the NHL was left as the only remaining league competing for the Stanley Cup in 1926. 

As NHL, the league had only four Canadian teams until 1924, when US-based Boston Bruins joined the league.  From 1942 to 1967, the league operated with only six teams, which were collectively called the “Original Six” – Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs

 

More teams have been added since then, with the league expanding its membership to 18 teams by 1974, and five more added five years later.   Today, the NHL plays with 32 teams.

On the international scene, ice hockey is played in many countries across the northern and western hemispheres with icy cold winter seasons, including Finland, Russia, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Latvia.  

Ice hockey became an Olympic event during the 1920 Summer Olympics hosted by Belgium before it permanently moved to the Winter Olympics in 1924, where it has become a regular event to this day. 

But of course, just like in any other event in the Olympics, ice hockey playing nations have to undergo a qualifying process to get into the Winter Games.  Thus, only a select number of countries see action in the Olympics, with many players competing in the NHL and playing for their respective countries in the prestigious quadrennial games. 

While the popularity of ice hockey in Canada, the United States, and many countries in Europe is continually on the rise, it hasn’t gained ground in Asia and many tropical countries across the globe. So far, only wintry countries from North America and Europe have won Olympic medals in ice hockey.

In the Philippines, for example, the sport is played on artificial ice rinks in giant malls, where costs are prohibitive and thus adoption rate is low.    

Other tropical countries in Asia, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand, are facing similar challenges. Thus they are unable to develop a stronger core to develop young players and prepare them for high-level competitions. 

On a positive note, three Asian countries with winter seasons are slowly developing a credible ice hockey program by collaborating with each other to form a league known as the Asia League Ice Hockey.  They have also invited teams from Russia and allowed the use of imports, including those with playing experience from the NHL, to increase the league’s competitive level. 

As former hosts of three Winter Olympic editions, Japan and unified Korea have helped raise higher public awareness and appreciation for the game and increase adoption rate.  The Chinese are certainly on the same page when it won the bid to the Winter Games next year. 

The NHL is not without its share of players with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino ancestries.  Among them are Nick Suzuki (Japanese), Kailer Yamamoto (Japanese),  Jason Richardson (Filipino), Mathew Dumba (Filipino),  Jett Woo (Chinese), Austin Wong (Chinese), and Richard Park (Korean).

 

Just like football and basketball, the sport of ice hockey is slowly, but surely, finding its place in the hearts of many people around the world.  

 

Panthers fall to Lightning in physical rematch

At the end of the first period, the Florida Panthers were probably at least satisfied with their performance. They were scoreless, but so were the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

At the end of the second, the Panthers were down 4-0 en route to a demoralizing 6-1 loss on Saturday night at the BB&T Center. 

The Lightning suffered an embarrassing 5-2 loss on Thursday night to the Panthers, their Central Division rivals. Apparently, they had had enough. Even without captain Steven Stamkos, Tampa was able to put together a litany of scoring chances in the second period that Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was simply unable to stop. Conversely, the Cats couldn’t find a way to get past Andrei Vasilevskiy, who totaled 33 total saves for a .971 save percentage. 

The lone Panthers goal of the night came in the third period when Brett Connolly and Frank Vatrano teamed up to slide one past Andrei Vasilevskiy. But the celebration was short-lived. Less than a minute later Tampa’s Alexander Volkov scored the Lightning’s fifth of the night, effectively squashing any desperate hopes at an unlikely but not completely impossible comeback for Florida.

“We lost our composure when they got ahead,” head coach Joel Quenville said. “The game just got away from us.”

Both Radko Gudas and Patric Hornqvist made their own attempts to turn the tide by dropping gloves with Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde respectively but all efforts fell short. MacKenzie Weegar also scuffled with Killorn late in the first and the two exchanged words even after moving to the box. 

The loss keeps the Panthers (8-2-2) at the second position in the Central Division behind the Lightning (10-2-1). They play the third game of the series in Tampa Bay on Monday.

Panthers top Flyers, move to 2nd in the Atlantic

The Florida Panthers entered Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a 10-5-5 record and sitting third in the Atlantic division, two points clear of the Buffalo Sabres.

With about 2:30 minutes left in the third period, Mike Hoffman put in the game clinching empty net goal to give the Panthers a 5-2 win, improving their record to an impressive 11-5-5 and now 2nd in the Atlantic.

This marks one of the best starts in franchise history. This start is happening thanks to a high attacking offense who ranked 2nd in the NHL in goals entering play.

“We played well enough to get 2 points,” Panthers forward Brett Connolly said post game. “Guys are starting to get their roles 21 games into the season, and it’s been fun to be part of the team.”

The one downside so far for the Panthers is their big splash free agent goalie, Sergei Brobvosky, who is off to the worst start of his career. Entering play, he had a .882 save percentage, which ranked 57th in the league. He’s also allowed 54 goals so far this season, which is the most amongst goalies. Bobrovsky seems to be on the rebound after saving 35 of 37 shots faced.

The Panthers were in need of a solid 60 minute effort going into the game and after an early goal by Travis Sanheim,  the Panthers started to get the game in their control, dominating puck possession in the first and second period.

The Panthers had a comfortable 4-1 lead most of the way through the second period, until the Flyers’ highly touted prospect Morgan Frost got one past Brobvosky in his NHL debut.

The Panthers finish off the homestand Thursday, then go on the road for a couple games before coming home again for a franchise record nine-game homestand.

 

 

Florida Panthers 2019 Season Preview

The Florida Panthers 2019 season kicks off October 3rd with high expectations. Will this be the year the Cats break through?

With all the talk of tanking consuming local sports media, the Florida Panthers quietly enter the 2019 season poised for a playoff run.

The Panthers could in fact be the most successful team in South Florida this year.

They look to build off a 2018 season which showed a lot of promise but spiraled in the wrong direction late.

A few major changes took place for the Panthers in the offseason, most notably the addition of three time Stanley Cup winning head coach Joel Quinneville.

Dale Tallon replaced Bob Boughner after two mediocre seasons which saw them miss the playoffs both years.

Quinneville obviously brings a proven track record of success to the organization which was much needed after the team plateaued under Boughner.

Swan Song for the Great Strombone

 

 

 

Injuries played a factor for Luongo and trying to rehab and get into shape for another season was not in the plans for the Great Strombone.

To fill the void in net the Panthers swung for the fences, signing two time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky to a 7-year deal in July.

Despite his success, Bobrovsky is still seeking his first Stanley Cup and is excited for the potential of his new team.

“It’s all about the Cup. That’s my main goal,” he said July 2. “That’s what I want to do, so that’s why I am here now. I believe in this team, I believe in this group, and I really think that we can do something special in here.” From NHL.com

Bobrovsky led the NHL with nine shutouts last year with Columbus and his 2.46 career goals-against-average (GAA) is a huge improvement over the 3.16 GAA the Panthers goalies put up last year. That mark ranked them 28th in the league, simply not good enough.

Where the Panthers really struggled last year was on the blue line, ranking 28th in the NHL with 273 goals allowed. Communication was a huge problem for the Cats defense last year, look for that area to improve under the structure of Quenneville.

Even an average defense should be enough for Florida to have a successful season due to an elite forward group led by superstar center Aleksander Barkov.

Casual fans may not recognize Barkov on the street, but he may be the best athlete in his respective sport locally.

Keep the Power on

One area of the team that should continue to be a bright spot is the power play, a unit that ranked second in the NHL with the man advantage last year.

Barkov led the Panthers with 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists) and his fellow forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Hoffman also eclipsed 30 goals on the year. Florida ranked in the top ten in both total goals (264) and goals per game (3.22) and the main core on the front line returns in 2019.

These three top forwards along with Evgenii Davodov played in all 82 games last year, hopefully they can stay close to that level of health this season. Davodov had a breakout season in his second year back from the KHL with 28 goals and 42 assists.

It may take time for the power play unit to click with a new coaching system in place, but the continuity and chemistry in that group should make the transition much easier.

Frank Vatrano was another spark for the Florida offense and finished fifth on the team with 24 goals.

Defend at all Costs

On the flip side of the coin for the Panthers is their defensive group which struggled mightily last year. As mentioned the Panthers were quite generous to the opponent on defense, allowing odd man rushes and missing assignments in their own zone at an alarming rate.

Despite an elite power play that unit had their own warts, allowing 13 shorthanded goals which was tied for the second-worst mark league wide. They also converted only three short handed goals of their own, tied for worst in the NHL.

The penalty kill (81.3%) was a top 10 group however, so special teams is an area of the team that could carry them in stretches throughout the year.

NHL Ironman Keith Yandle returns along with Aaron Ekblad as the top defense pairing, Yandle was especially effective on the power play and led the Panthers with 32 assists with an extra attacker. Ekblad was consistent again with 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) and has hit double digits in goals in each of his five seasons. He was also one of only four Panthers with a positive +/- for the year, Florida will need more players on the right side of that stat to make it anywhere this season.

With upgrades on the bench and in net the Panthers are in a great position to make a playoff push, perhaps even win a few series. They have to start fast, Florida lost eight out of their first ten games last year and could not overcome that early deficit.

The Panthers must also avoid multiple long losing streaks, they suffered both a seven-game and six-game slide in the second half which essentially put them out of the playoff picture.

Quenneville should be a steadying influence for a young and talented team, as a proven winner he should earn immediate respect from his team.

Follow us on Twitter for more Florida Panthers news @SportsWaveDave and @5ReasonsSports.

 

Florida Panthers open camp with high hopes

The Florida Panthers open training camp today as they prepare for a season in which they have higher expectations than ever.

At a time in Miami sports when is the lowest it’s been in years,  with the Dolphins tanking, Marlins rebuilding and the Heat coming off a half a decade of mediocrity, the Panthers have a chance to capture the city.

They started their off-season with a coaching hire splash by hiring legendary coach Joel Quenneville, signing tip-free agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and other quality free agents. The signings have the Panthers at almost being a “cap team” for the first in quite a while, being just 500k under the cap.

The signings have caused a spark of interest from fans, season tickets have peaked to over 14,000 sold, compared to right around 3,000 when new ownership took over.

 

The Panthers made the playoffs in 2016 and have missed the playoffs every season since. The past two seasons the Panthers have had a common theme, start slow and finish strong. The Panthers know that this year has to be different.

Dale Tallon says that this is a deep town that has everyone competing for a roster spot. Tallon, when talking to the media, emphasized the importance of organizational depth saying “Inter-competition leads to success.”

Tallon believes this team doesn’t have a ceiling.

The players met with the media today and all repeated the same message on how they appreciated management spending the money and filling the needs. Panthers’ captain Sahsa Barkov says: “It was perfect. Nothing more you can expect from Dale.”

Florida Panthers

Bobrovsky Signing Continues Great Offseason for Florida Panthers

Lost in the wake of NBA free agency, the Florida Panthers have had a tremendous offseason thus far.

The Panthers displayed Heat-like savvy this week signing elite goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

That has been overshadowed of course by the events over the last 24 hours consuming this market.

Perhaps rightfully so.

NHL officials however should look at the timing of their free agency period, which aligns almost exactly with the NBA.

In signing Bobrovsky to a 7-year, 70-million dollar contract, the Cats mean business.

Only Carey Price makes more average salary in terms of goaltenders.

After bringing in veteran head coach Joel Quenneville, Dale Tallon has reloaded the Panthers from the goal line up.

 

The retirement of Roberto Luongo left an immediate need in net for the Cats.

Bobrovsky brings an elite goalie in right away to fill the void, and expectations will be high in Sunrise this year.

A two time Vezina Trophy winner, Bobrovsky will stabilize a position that was troubling last year.

Florida ranked 28th in the NHL  in both total goals allowed (273) and goal per game allowed (3.33) last year.

Bobrovsky spent the last seven seasons in Columbus and in addition to the two Vezina wins is a five-time NHL All-Star.

He has a 255-133-37 record over his nine-year career, with a 2.46 GAA and .919 SV% along with 38 shutouts.

Florida also added what many consider the best goalie to enter the NHL draft recently in Spencer Knight, watch out for a profile on him soon.

More Solid Additions

In front of Bobrovsky the Panthers solidified their blue line corps adding veteran defenseman Anton Stralman who spent the last five seasons across the state in Tampa Bay.

Stralman was a major part of the defense on the Lightning and the 12-year vet will add much needed experience and stability to the Panthers’ blue line.

Florida also added forwards Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari in a busy stretch this week.

Make sure to follow on Twitter @SportsWaveDave for the latest in Miami sports.

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo – Swan Song for the Strombone

In typical fashion,  Florida Panthers longtime goaltender Roberto Luongo announced his retirement Wednesday.

 

Ok, he actually used a slightly more serious platform to mark the occasion.

In an honest and open letter to Florida Panthers and NHL fans, Luongo voiced his decision with great sincerity.

Reactions around hockey and in the world of sports have been pouring in.

 

Luongo exits the NHL after an illustrious 19-year career, leaving an impressive if complex legacy.

He came into the league as a 20-year old rookie for the New York Islanders, who did not feel he was the one.

Instead, Luongo was quickly traded to Florida after New York drafted Rick Dipietro first overall the following year. That deal also brought over franchise great Oli Jokinen.

In 2004 during his fourth season with the Panthers he began his ascension towards greatness, earning a second team All-Star nod and finishing third in the Vezina Trophy race.

As quickly as the tide was rising on Luongo’s career, the winds of change would soon alter the course of not one, but two franchises.

After the 2005-06 season, Luongo would be traded to the Vancouver Canucks, starting a new chapter and earning a place in another team’s record books.

Potential met in Vancouver

Luongo would not disappoint in his debut season for the Canucks, posting a 47-22-6 record with a stellar .921 and 2.28 GAA respectively.

He would earn another second team All-Star selection and finish second in both the Hart and Veniza trophy races. His 252 wins and 38 shutouts are Canucks records, and he ranks second in games played (448), GAA (2.36), and SV % (.919).

Vancouver was a consistent playoff team with Lu in net, making the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2010-11 season. The Canucks would lose a heartbreaking series to the Boston Bruins, after leading 3-2 in the series. This series defined the legacy of Lu, from two shutouts wins to a three-goal meltdown and benching in Boston which changed the series.

From Sunrise to Sunset

Luongo was traded back to the Panthers in March, 2014 to finish rewriting the record books in Florida. Another excellent run would ensue but the team could not quite get over the hump.

Injuries as they usually do began to take their toll, after being durable most of his career the last three years were tough for Luongo.

He would undergo hip surgery after only starting 39 games in the 2016-17 season, and would split time more in those final seasons with the emerging James Reimer. He is the Cats leader in career wins (230) and shutouts (38), like in that other place.

Unlike with the Canucks however, he enjoyed much less postseason success in his second stint. Luongo has also endured more defeats (241) than any other goalie in Panthers’ history.

Building a supporting cast around the franchise goalie was never successful, and Lu paid the price behind a subpar blue line for years.

Now a 19-year career split almost evenly between two franchises ends.

Where he ranks in the pantheon of both organizations is an interesting question.

It is no doubt high.

But is it the height of rafters?

He may have played to his own beat, but the Strombone sure composed a masterpiece.

At least now he will have more time for elite Twitter activity.