From September to January, many hoped that the National Hockey league would end their lockout and the season would begin. But many at Purdue did not care either way.
Growing up on the east coast in New Hampshire, the names that may sound foreign to most like Ray Borque and Cam Neely, former Boston Bruin greats, were the heroes of all my classmates. We all looked forward to the winter months, as it meant the lakes were going to be freezing over and it was time for some pond hockey. Every town built their own rink; lights were rigged so that even into the depths of night people could skate and play pickup games until you could no longer feel your fingers.
But these feelings did not translate to Purdue’s campus. I assumed in an area as flat as West Lafayette, it would breed a base for hockey. But then I began to realize the great tradition of basketball in Indiana. It’s hard for any other sport, especially one that’s in the same season, to compete for attention in a state in which there is a movie about basketball which bears the classic nickname of its residents.
The résumé of the Big Ten is overwhelming with its success. The six Big Ten schools that do have varsity hockey teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin – have totaled 23 national championship titles.
According to USA Today, around 30 percent of the NHL is made up of former collegiate players. The NHL reports that Michigan has 14 alumni playing on current rosters this season, as well as Michigan State with 11, Minnesota with 13, Ohio State with four and Wisconsin with 18. Even in-state rival Notre Dame has four alumni who play in the NHL.
The largest crowd ever for a hockey game was on Dec. 11, 2010 with the match up between Michigan and Michigan State that was held outdoors in Michigan’s football stadium, The Big House. Dubbed “Big Chill at the Big House,” the official attendance was 104,173 people, reported by Guinness World Records. These numbers indicate that, even in the Midwest, there are people who still enjoy the sport.
These Midwest attendance
numbers do not translate into Purdue’s accommodations for hockey. Not only does Purdue not have a collegiate hockey team, but their club team has limited resources.
Patrick McCrum, the president of Purdue’s hockey club, says that what it takes to survive as a club team gives insight into the uphill battle that it takes to become a Division I sport. Purdue’s club travels to Carmel, Ind., for practices and Kankakee, Ill., for their games, which totals to about an hour of travel to either rink. This travel time deters some members away from the club, according to McCrum.
“People have told me they wished it was closer,” he said. “(It) always plays a role when it’s that far away to get people to play.”
The people that he has played with in the past in Indiana also shine light on the type of players that even want to compete at Purdue.
“Seems to be the people who moved here from other places are normally the ones who play here,” McCrum said. “When I played in Indiana, it was all the transplants from other places. People from Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and the Chicago area – those are the ones who ended up playing hockey; it wasn’t really the people who were from here.”
Changing the culture of athletics in a specific area would be a hard task to try to complete but Dennis Jordan, president of the Indiana State High School Hockey Association, says that it is “somewhat difficult ... but most of the leagues have stepped up their ‘learn to play.’ It’s the pyramid effect. The more kids we get at the early level will naturally flow to the high school level.”
The more prevalent that the sport becomes in Indiana, and as the system begins to help develop the talent that is already here at Purdue and in the surrounding area, the more Hoosiers will put down the ball and pick up the puck.
Matthew Thomas is a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.