As the sport of hockey tries to grow its footprint on a national scale, never has the NHL had a better opportunity than right now.
For the next couple of weeks, the NHL will resemble NCAA March Madness with games going on at pretty much every hour of the day.
It should be pretty easy to attract casual fans right now, especially with so many people craving live sports amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“You look and there are people watching bean-bag toss” on TV, Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise said. “There’s going to be a lot of hockey games available to watch throughout the entire day, so when people are sitting at home, I hope as a league we can take advantage of that. All of a sudden there’s a hockey game on in the middle of the afternoon and someone is sitting at home not doing anything. We hope we can attract a few more (viewers) that usually aren’t tuning in.”
It starts on Saturday, Aug. 1, with the New York Rangers taking on the Carolina Hurricanes at 11 a.m.; the Chicago Blackhawks facing off wit the Edmonton Oilers at 2 p.m.; the Florida Panthers playing the New York Islanders at 3 p.m.; the Montreal Canadiens battling the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7 p.m., and the Winnipeg Jets clashing with the Calgary Flames at 9:30 p.m.
It continues on Sunday with the Arizona Coyotes playing the Nashville Predators at 1 p.m.; the Philadelphia Flyers squaring up with the Boston Bruins at 2 p.m.; the St. Louis Blues taking on the Colorado Avalanche at 5:30 p.m.; the Columbus Blue Jackets going toe to toe with the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 p.m., and — finally — the Wild battling the Vancouver Canucks at 9:30 p.m.
The schedule will be that full every day for the next couple of weeks.
“That’s going to be pretty exciting for a fan to watch,” Wild winger Marcus Foligno said. “I already have buddies and people back home in Sudbury, Ontario, talking that they can’t wait to watch it at the cottage because they are going to have it on the outdoor TV and are going to be hanging outside watching all day. That first week or so, it’s going to be pretty fun for a fan to be watching.”
“There are a lot of people who don’t have much to do right now,” Minnesota winger Luke Kunin added. “I think it’s definitely a great opportunity to get more people following the game and into the game. Hopefully it’s some really good hockey, and it grows the game.”
While no spectators can attend the games, this is the next best thing for the NHL as a whole.
“Everyone I’ve talked to, they’re absolutely jacked that they can sit at home and watch hockey all day,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “All of our wonderful fans, I’m sure, are looking forward to seeing this show get started over the weekend.”