Brett Duquette and Bob Gurnett are the type of fans that NHL dreams are made of.
The diehard basketball fans used the NBA lockout as an excuse to check out pro hockey. Now they have plunged headfirst into a whirlwind love affair with all things NHL. The pair is channeling newfound puck-love into whatthehellisicing.com, a blog chronicling their growing obsession with the sport.
“It’s gotten to the point where I seriously am not sure if I want basketball to come back. We’re having so much fun,” says Duquette, 27, who lives in New York, where he is an editor for a children’s book publisher.
The close friends grew up in Omaha, Neb. — college football country — where Gurnett, 27, still lives and works in I.T. They are impressed with the speed of hockey, but admit it was a fight that first hooked them.
“It was amazing how the play-by-play guys switched from talking hockey to being boxing commentators,” marvels Duquette. “Then we were amazed that nobody stopped it. In any other sport, a fight is a huge deal. In hockey, it’s just a part of it.”
Both men speculate that they’ve watched more hockey this year than NFL and the World Series combined and they have nothing but good things to say about the fraternity they have joined.
“One of the things that I think we’ve both been surprised with is how welcoming other fans are. When you are in a sports bar and tell people that you are new fan, they say ‘hey, welcome to hockey,’ ” says Gurnett. “It’s been great.”
Talking to the guys over Skype, it is fun to hear their very fresh perspective on the sport.
Duquette loves Marian Hossa and thinks Vancouver’s Sedin twins have extrasensory perception because of their non-verbal on-ice communication. Gurnett is amazed at how much coverage was generated just because Sidney Crosby’s practice helmet changed colour from white to black.
As newbies, the pair have latched onto the Winnipeg Jets as their team. They say they were in part inspired by their love of The Weakerthans, Winnipeg’s great indie rock group, and plan to make a pilgrimage to the city to see a game.
Admittedly, the movement of the NBA fan to NHL devotee sounds like a stretch to some, as while there are definitely plenty of all-sports fans, these two sports tend to have less overlap. But in the U.S. the narrative of hockey as basketball substitute is starting to gain some momentum.
For example, Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report recently created a sarcastic pro-NBA-owner commercial which warned of “NBA fans being forced to watch hockey.” As well, Bill Simmons at ESPN’s Grantland has launched a “Behind the Pipes” series. Simmons bought L.A. Kings season tickets and plans to have the site’s staff check it out and file their thoughts.
Duquette and Gurnett say they’ve seen a few other major U.S. media outlets start to talk about the virtues of the NHL as a place for some bored basketball fans to check out.
It’s clear that, particularly in the U.S., the NHL definitely has an opportunity to capitalize during the NBA’s labour dispute, but how to do it is the question. The Icing bloggers say it is still tough to find U.S. TV coverage, despite the $2 billion, 10-year deal the league signed with NBC earlier this year. But in some ways, that helps create the seminal experiences that forge true fandom.
“I went to a sports bar down the street last week during the World Series and it was like, can you please switch one of your 20 TVs to a hockey game? It took some asking but the bartender eventually did it,” says Gurnett.
While things are going great for these neophyte hockey bloggers, it is clearly less rosy for basketball bloggers, which is one reason why The Score’s The Basketball Jones decided to take matters into their own hands and hit the road.
“We were just getting tired of waiting for the NBA to get their act together. If the NBA wasn’t going to provide any content, we know we can still continue to provide a quality product,” says Tas Melas.
Faced with a lost season, they leave Nov. 1 on a six-week, 10-city tour called the TBJ Tour: No Season Required, which ends in Toronto on Dec. 9. They plan to do a show on location in each stop, host a fan meet-up and try to create more of the goofy viral videos they are well known for.
“It should be pretty exciting because, well, nothing else is going on,” says Melas.