Daily Links: Turning Pittsburgh Into A Hockey Town

Bruce Bennett

A team's rise in the rankings, as well as a popular leader, can put the city back on the hockey map. But getting the youth involved helps to seal the deal. Could Dallas do the same?

A lot of people don't seem to remember, or they just choose to forget, but Pittsburgh was not in a very good state before the last lockout. Their attendance numbers were atrocious, the teams was constantly in the bottom of the standings, and no one seemed to care.

In fact, things were so bad, that moving the team to a new location was a legitimate discussion.

During the 2004-2005 lockout, however, the Penguins received a gift -- The first overall draft pick.

Naturally, they chose Sydney Crosby, and the rest is history. Him, along with Malkin and the the others, were able to revive the hockey market, and led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup.

It affected more than just the fans in Pittsburgh, though. It was an entire lifestyle change. Crosby and the other players began getting involved with the youth, getting kids interested in hockey again.

Anyone who has played hockey can tell you how expensive it is to get started. There is a lot of gear that you have to buy, maybe more than any other sport, and it adds up pretty quick. So what's the best way to get kids who are new to hockey past that barrier? By giving them free equipment, of course.

James Mirtle talks about exactly what the team did, and how big of an effect it had on the town:

But the combined effect of Crosby and Co. providing free gear and instruction has brought a quick and dramatic change that landscape in this football-crazed city, to the point that there are now 120-per-cent more children aged 10 and under playing in Western Pennsylvania than even five years earlier.

"This is the new, Sidney Crosby, generation," said Penguins president David Morehouse, a Pittsburgh native who made the transition from politics to pucks when club owner Ron Burkle hired him in 2004 to work on the franchise's push for a new arena. "These are the kids that started playing when we came out of the last lockout, and some of those kids got the free equipment.

A region with fewer than four million people, in other words, has accounted for 15 per cent of the growth in youth hockey in the United States, outpacing every other state.

It's a shift that has surprised even Crosby and the Penguins, who set out together on this path early in his career.

It was a way to both give back to the community and grow their fan base.

With a new owner in Dallas, he shares a similar plan. Not only is it important to build a championship team on the ice, but it's vital to have life long fans who are passionate about playing themselves.

It is one of those things that is hard to measure right away. Kids take time to grow, and it's a long term investment by a team to get it done. Dallas is seeing tangible benefits from what they did back in the 90's though. The fact that Seth Jones is from the Dallas area and may be selected first overall in the upcoming draft this summer is a pretty big deal.

With any luck, success stories like that will once again be in Dallas' future.

Coming up in today's links: Some more news before today's game, Toronto's playoff plan, and the way a fight would go if I was involved.

  • Mark Stepneski has his preview for today's game, including a matchup of stats. [Stars Inside Edge]
  • If you want some more stats, here's February by the numbers, in which the the Stars were pretty successful. [Stars Inside Edge]
  • Toronto has a plan for getting back into the playoffs. Apparently all they need is better defense, more offense, and good goaltending. [Globe And Mail]
  • Todd Maternowski gives us the Truf about Michael Ryder, and why the trade was made. [Thursday Morning Cup Check]
  • It was an Eastern Conference kind of night, as the three stars of yesterday's games all came from the coast. Some good notes and highlights are in the link. [Puck Daddy]
  • For the video of the day, here's an epic showdown between two LNAH league players. Well, epic in that it never happens. Listen to those fans boo.

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