98 Men Of Power and Influence

The annual “100 People of Power and Influence” fills the current double-wide issue of The Hockey News, as it does to start every new calendar season. Once again, it reads like an alumni listing of the Old Boys’ School; while last year the list was 99 men and one woman, this year THN added Hayley Wickenheiser at slot 95 to make it 98 Men Of Power and Influence and oh yeah, two women too. If this list is supposed to be about influence on hockey, in hockey, and through hockey, then it had better reflect the demographics of the sport and the fan base. Rows of GMs, mainstream media broadcasters, league executives and some NHL players is a microcosm of what is wrong with the NHL Nation today: it’s not expanding.

Women’s hockey remains missing in (fun) action. I had a lot more fun watching the USA women play in Torino than the men. Women’s hockey is alive and well around the world, but you’d never know it from the Hockey News list. It’s supposed to be about “hockey” not “men’s professional hockey”, right? Angela Ruggiero is a glaring omission. Olympic athlete, youth athletics advocate, community service leader for the NY Islanders, and autobiographical author. Influence grows communities. Second on the missing list is Laura Halldorson, women’s ice hockey coach at the University of Minnesota. Her bid for a hat trick of national championships was spoiled by Wisconson, coached by Miracle on Ice alum Mark Johnson. Halldorson was instrumental in the growth of ECAC women’s hockey and Laura’s work helped ensure that the efforts of the top college women’s player would be recognized in the Patty Kazmeier award, named after her late Tiger teammate.

College hockey is not represented. Not every NHL player gets drafted right out of high school or juniors. For many hockey players, NCAA-sanctioned hockey is the top of their career, and they’ll go on to play ECHL or European hockey for a year or two before putting the college degree to work. Those players remain fans of the game, and if THN’s list is supposed to be about power and influence in the game, it has to include the programs that can build life-long fans. Boston Bruins tickets pale in comparison to Bean Pot ducats in the city that knows more than beans about hockey.

Hockey may be for everyone, unless you’re on the list. Jarome Iginla is “the face of hockey in Canada”, and he’s the sole minority on the list. The NHL has a variety of diversity programs, again intended to expand the reach, scope and fan base for the game, but none of that work shows up in this list. How about Ice Hockey in Harlem, or the Newark Devils Renaissance effort underway to make hockey accessible in and around the Devils’ new building? Broadcasters on the west coast are making a big deal of Georges Laraque’s transformation from enforcer to play-maker — isn’t that what the new rules were supposed to highlight? This year’s list isn’t only a huge majority of white men, it’s North American white men. Europeans? Russians and Baltic states? Diversity comes in many flavors, and it generally drives expansion of your talent arena, fan base, and power pool.

Where are the fans?. Maybe I’m just having trouble with the preponderance of mainstream media on the 2007 list. But with the number of message boards and blogs that focus on hockey, sometimes exclusively on hockey, why not at least acknowledge the fans and their direct participation in the marketing of the sport? The NHL’s “invitation only” blog effort is a start, but it’s league-centric; check out Hockey’s Future boards for a taste of unedited hockey wisdom or Off Wing Opinion and its daily dose of random non-press clippings from the mouths of the lowly fan (that would be us bloggers). Please, acknowledge that the game needs fans, and in particular fans in seats, for the “new economic certainties” to be long-term positive for the players, the league and ultimately, those same fans.

It wouldn’t be a new year if I didn’t make some predictions for next year’s list, so here goes:

Mark Cuban. I’d love to see him get involved with the Penguins. And he’d help fix a lot of the fan outreach issues.

Patrik Elias. I was happy to see Marty Brodeur on this year’s list, but he’s rostered because of his work on the competition committee and his Olympic efforts. His book was a good read, and Marty truly understands using the players to market the game. Elias demonstrated many of the things that the league wanted out of the new labor agreement: he took a hometown discount in his unrestricted free agency year, he signed a deal with a no-trade clause, he’s wearing the captain’s “C” on his sweater a year after nearly dying from a hepatitis infection, and he remains a genuinely good guy playing good hockey and leading the first-place NJ Devils into the second half of the season. If the Devils have a good second half and second season, then Elias deserves some props.

Linda Cohn. Am I the only one who read’s Linda’s missives on the ESPN NHL pages?. She’s a dyed-in-the-blue hockey fan, former hockey player, great commentator, fan agitator, and story aggregator. At the risk of sounding like the bridge of Genesis’ “Dodo”, she definitely has power and influence. Or does The Hockey News ignore all other media (see point about blogs above)?