A couple weeks ago we told you about Hockey in the USA – Part I, the documentary by New Jersey filmmaker Steve Chernoski. The film, set to debut online on Thanksgiving Day, follows Chernoski up the East Coast to see what effect, if any, the Olympic hockey tournament had on the American hockey landscape.
This week we bring you a four-minute teaser clip from the documentary. This particular scene takes us to Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. While the town may be better known for its famous confectionery and theme park, the Bears routinely lead the AHL in attendance, averaging around 9,000 fans per game. Affiliates of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, the Bears have seen on-ice success in recent years, winning the Calder Cup in 2006, 2009, and 2010, and finishing second in 2007. All of this points to Hershey as the epicenter of minor league hockey in America, and an obvious stop on Chernoski’s voyage. In this clip, he speaks to native Hersheyites, hoping to figure out why hockey is so huge in such a small Pennsylvania town.
Coming from a hockey-loving AHL city (that actually bested Hershey in attendance in ’05–’06), I understand what these people are saying. I worked for six years at the arena where the Manchester Monarchs played, through college and afterwards. I was a hockey fanatic before the team came to town, but I would show up for work and people who previously didn’t know Wayne Gretzky from Wayne Brady could be found discussing the latest L.A. Kings injury or poking through the Monarchs’ yearbook. Years later the fury has died down some, as it does in so many minor league towns, but on any given night you will still find thousands of people at the arena, hoping to catch a glimpse of the next Kings superstar. The addition of the team to our community strengthened an already-tight bond with the game and made hockey fans out of people who otherwise would never have watched a single faceoff.
Is that enough to grow the game in the United States? Is the answer to hockey’s growth problem to put a minor league team in every town from Tacoma to Tallahassee? We’ll have to wait until Hockey in the USA – Part I comes out on Thanksgiving Day. Until then, you can visit the film’s Facebook page or follow Steve Chernoski on Twitter.