Hockey fans miss the call on CIS competition

Repercussions of NHL work stoppage show why students should turn to interuniversity action

The dark cloud that has loomed over Canadian hockey fans for the past four months is all but passed. Pending official approval from the NHLPA, the new CBA will end the NHL lockout and have players back on ice Jan. 19.

Minor hockey leagues like the CIS were expected to see boosts in attendance from fans missing the comfort of Hockey Night in Canada. Unfortunately, it seems we’re a nation largely uninterested in hockey outside of the most marketed leagues.

This marks the second time in eight years the NHL has faced a labour stoppage, the previous coming in the completely lost 2004-05 season. Although the NHL has likely done severe damage to their casual fan base, the hardcore fans, many of whom just weeks ago were advocating a boycott of the league next season, are running back with open arms.

TV ratings may be down for the first month while those still sour from the lockout are slowly coaxed back to their teams, but come playoffs, the frenzy and excitement will have returned to its usual epic proportions.

What’s disconcerting is the failure of an NHL lockout to significantly stimulate fan interest in other levels of hockey, like CIS.

Canada is clearly a hockey-crazed nation. Fans destroyed their sleep schedules to get up at 4:30 a.m. to watch Canada’s lackluster performance at this year’s World Junior tournament.

Why does this love for hockey fail to translate to the collegiate level?

In a year when fans craved to watch a high quality hockey product, many CIS rinks lay empty. There was no noticeable increase in attendance at Queen’s home games, which average slightly over 100 fans per game.

The potential negative stigma surrounding the quality of players in the CIS is ludicrous — it’s no boy’s league. The bulk of its players are CHL grads that play a fast, physical and competitive brand of hockey.

The Alberta Golden Bears topped a collection of Canadian World Junior hopefuls 4-1 last month in exhibition play.

One need look no further than the annual Carr-Harris Cup between Queen’s and RMC to see how competitive OUA hockey is. Last year’s game was played in the K-Rock Centre in front of 2,576 fans, showcasing the oldest rivalry in hockey history.

Gaels head coach Brett Gibson said everyone he spoke to after the game “[couldn’t] get over how good the hockey is.”

Queen’s and RMC aren’t even in the upper echelon of the OUA, but fans were amazed at the quality of the on-ice product.

If fans are willing to give the OUA a chance, I guarantee they won’t be disappointed. The product isn’t nearly as glamorous as the NHL, but it doesn’t mean the OUA has no entertainment value.

Heading out to the local arena to see players giving it their all simply for the love of the game is exactly what hockey fans need.

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