Fighting for attention: American Century Championship hockey personalities lament sport’s lack of media coverage
In the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs, four of the American Century Championship’s participants with ties to the ice took part in the event’s first conference call leading up to the 27th annual tournament. And they all agreed on one thing — hockey doesn’t get the attention it deserves in America.
“I hate the way that hockey is viewed through the media,” said Jeremy Roenick, who played in the National Hockey League for more than two decades. “It drives me crazy that hockey doesn’t get the attention that it deserves through the media.”
Roenick will be making his 20th appearance at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course when the ACC returns July 19-24, and finished 16th last year. The former All-Star center headlined a conference call May 19 that featured 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey captain Mike Eruzione, Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie and NHL on NBC host Kathryn Tappen.
“It drives me crazy that we don’t get the respect that football, basketball and baseball get on a daily basis,” Roenick said. “Granted it’s easier to play those sports and understand those sports, but the producers of these shows should have the respect and, I would think, the love for hockey to get it out there so people can learn about it more, so people can get interested about it more.”
The outspoken Roenick expressed frustration at hockey’s current lack of popularity in the U.S., mainly because he is proud of the NHL as an organization. He retired in 2009 after tallying 513 goals in 703 assists in 1,363 career games with five different teams — and is currently an analyst with NBC Sports.
“It’s the best game in the world,” Roenick said. “I truly believe that radio shows and producers definitely put it on the back burner and they need to change their philosophy, because hockey is not going to become as popular a sport as it should without the support of all these different networks.”
Eruzione, one of four players that have appeared at the ACC every year since its inception in 1990, echoed that sentiment. The man who captained the “Miracle on Ice” team that delivered gold in the 1980 Olympics hung up his skates after winning the gold medal and playing four years in the International Hockey League.
“It’s frustrating as a former player and as a guy who obviously loves the game,” he said. “The skill level of the players who play the game today, it’s mind-boggling how good these players are.
“I still think the toughest championship to win in sports is to win the Stanley Cup [with] what these players go through and the grind and the schedules they have, game in, game out.”
Oshie admitted that he has watched more of the Stanley Cup Playoffs than ever before after his team was eliminated from contention. The Capitals were beaten by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference second round.
“There’s some truly amazing people who play the game,” said Oshie, who has played in the tournament for the past three years and took 29th in 2015. “I’ve had some amazing teammates, really, really good people. And I think the fans sometimes just aren’t able to see that.”
In addition to the NHL, Tappen’s assignments include the National Football League and the Olympics. The sportscaster who will make her Lake Tahoe debut as part of the biggest female field in ACC history pointed to marketing individual players as an area that could promote the game.
“I think there are so many unbelievable personalities that we all have the benefit of coming in contact with every day and getting to know on a personal level,” Tappen said. “[Marketing] those personalities and what they do off the ice and the charitable work that they’re involved in and the hobbies.”
As for the ongoing Stanley Cup Final, Roenick offered high praise for the San Jose Sharks — who currently trail Pittsburgh 3-1. While the former Shark has been critical of the Bay Area club over the years, he dished out some superlatives about this season’s team before it closed out the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Finals.
“I think it’s the best Sharks team I’ve seen ever, to tell you the truth,” Roenick said. “I know they’ve had some really good teams in the past, but I don’t think they’ve had a Sharks team as deep as what you’re seeing now and as well coached as they’re being coached right now.”
“I think it’s obviously a team game, and I’ve seen these guys jell together as a group of 20 so well this year under a new coach,” he added. “The play of Joe Thornton, the play of Patrick Marleau, the play of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture has been so consistent all year — getting a goaltender they feel good in front of.”
The Penguins knocked out Oshie’s Capitals in six games in the second round after Washington claimed the Presidents’ Trophy with the most points in the regular season. When those two teams met in the playoffs, Oshie said Pittsburgh’s depth and goaltending made the difference.
“When you play against a team that has four lines going, it seems like you’re almost always playing catch up and almost always trying to gain back momentum — and it’s hard to do when they’re playing well against you,” Oshie said. “I definitely looked at them saying that I thought they were a good team, that they played great.”
Roenick, Eruzione, Oshie and Tappen initially signed on to represent hockey at Edgewood Tahoe along with Hall of Famer Mike Modano. Eruzione, one of the tournament’s original four along with John Elway, Jim McMahon and Jack Wagner, offered some straightforward playing advice to the first-timer Tappen.
“The trees are a lot higher than you think they are,” he said.