This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.
I know there are Blacks who like hockey, occasionally we run into one or two at games. But rarely, if ever, does the Only One find someone who looks like me in the press box or at media days.
I was the Only One at two hockey media days in the course of three days and a media teleconference before that, in preparation for the 2015-16 college hockey, which starts this week.
At the third annual media day, September 24, we asked National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Commissioner Josh Fenton at the Timberwolves arena — the site of 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals and championship — how college hockey hoped to diversify its fan base if those who regularly cover the sport aren’t diverse.
“I am certainly right there with you,” responded Fenton. “How can we grow the sport and opportunities to a diverse audience? College hockey is a place for everyone. My hope is that it can change, but we have to make it available and accessible [for] everybody.
“We have to find a way,” said Fenton.
Women’s hockey, unfortunately, is as diverse as its male counterpart — the University of Minnesota women’s team this season has its first goalie of color in program history — the total number of players of color is now three.
“I think the more young girls see a very diverse population [of players] the better,” said Gopher Coach Brad Frost. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of diversity in hockey, on the men’s side [and the women’s].”
Along with its lack of diversity, women’s hockey also has a media exposure problem. Case in point: the U-M women’s hockey team ran the table, a NCAA-record 62-game winning streak (Feb. 28, 2012 – Nov. 17, 2013). They won three of the last four NCAA championships, including last season — six overall.
One writer dubbed them “The New York Yankees of women’s hockey.” Going into Thursday’s season opener at Penn State, the Gophers are 130-6-5 in the team’s last 141 games. They are projected to capture another national crown during March Madness next spring.
“They have always been talented,” noted first year Ohio State Coach Jenny Potter on Minnesota.
That doesn’t mean the Gophers will run roughshod over the WCHA. “It is a very tough league,” added Potter. “It is not simple and easy.”
However, unless you are a women’s hockey fan, the general sporting public is virtually unaware of this: In men’s hockey, the Big Ten has BTN. The NCHC has CBS Sports Network and its own digital network, NCHC.tv, and this season added Fox Sports North to its broadcast stable.
Women’s hockey? Even the national title game doesn’t get any television love, locally or nationally. It’s the nature of the male-dominated sports media beast.
Nonetheless, the puck drops for Minnesota Thursday, and the rest of college hockey this weekend.
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Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.