"Rivalry Wednesday" Introduces Us To The Unknown Wild-Blackhawks Rivalry

There's something to a rivalry. The passion, the history, having players go from one team to another and being told "this is who we hate." They are the big games, the ones fans circle on their calendars months in advance.

But unless I missed the boat or we've traveled to 1991, Wild-Blackhawks is not a rivalry.

"Rivalry Wednesday," as NBC Sports Network is calling their hump day broadcast, is a game that showcases some of the best and passionate rivalries in the NHL. Someone deserves credit for coming up with the idea - hockey has many unique selling points and shining a light on regular season rivalry games gives casual fans more of a reason to watch.

It doesn't matter whether it's a geographical and divisional rivalry like Philadelphia-Pittsburgh or something built in the playoffs like Colorado-Detroit circa 1998, the passion is at at an all-time high. However, they are rivalries for a reason. Rivalries are not made in a lab nor can they be magically willed and wished. There has to something behind it that players and fans instead of just being a game that is on Wednesday.

And I hate to say it, but that kind of feels like what tonight's game is.

You know how much of a rivalry Minnesota-Chicago is? This is in the commercial!

Yes, Chicago and Detroit. The Wild and the Blackhawks are such big rivals that at the very least NBC Sports Network is telling us that Chicago is playing (at best) their second-biggest rival. What makes it worse is that they also did the same thing last week by showing New York Rangers-Boston - two teams that like Minnesota-Chicago are not in the same division and have bad blood built in other sports - and it isn't a good way to build "Rivalry Wednesday."

At least you can make some arguments that while the Rangers and Bruins each have bigger rivals (the two NYC teams and Montreal), there is history from the two being Original Six teams and facing each other multiple times in the playoffs. Sure, that's a stretch but not as far as Wild-Blackhawks.

Minnesota-Chicago's rivalry roots lie in the Norris Division where the North Stars and Black Hawks had years of physical, intense games. Those games aren't forgotten - even today you'll still an occasional "Secord Sucks*" from the Xcel Energy Center stands - yet they aren't celebrated and cherished. It's 2013 now and  things have changed; the venues, the divisions, even the North Stars (replaced by the Wild when Norm Green moved the North Stars to Dallas in 1993) haven't been around for 20 years.

In its current form, Wild-Blackhawks is the NHL equivalent of Gophers-Bemidji State. The two teams haven't met in the playoffs and there are two big moments between the organizations

1. Minnesota's four-goal comeback over Chicago in 2010
2. Blackhawks trading Cam Barker for Kim Johnsson and Nick Leddy (also in 2010).

That's it! In 13 years, there are two moments that stand out and one of them happened off the ice. Minnesota-Chicago games are usually interesting, but you can say the same thing about Minnesota-St. Louis games and NBC Sports Net did not slap the rivalry tag on that game Sunday.

And hey, I could be overreacting. The Wild and Blackhawks will likely be in the same division if realignment ever happens, which should make for a resumption of the Norris battles North Star fans remember. But  rather than have a rivalry that was big in the past and might be in the future discussed on national television, the present form is better off being without doing so this Wednesday. It feels too much like when Fox Sports North calls whatever Northwest Division team the Wild play their "biggest rival."

Last week I wrote an article for College Hockey News covering the end of the University of Minnesota-North Dakota series in the WCHA. Both teams are heading to new conferences and won't be playing each other in the regular season for the next 3 years. The emotion of the players coming out of that series and playing each other brought quotes like this one from Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox:

“It was weird. Growing up and seeing them across the border you’re always kind of in shock for the first couple of minutes with them.

“Last weekend (against Alaska-Anchorage), those games you gotta get points in but these games the emotions come out in the crowd here and everything. These are the games I love and these are the games I love to play.”

And here's another one from North Dakota senior Corban Knight:

“There’s not a lot of love out there between the two teams. Right from the get-go I think guys really started showing that hatred out there and you saw that throughout the 60 minutes.”

None of that comes through on the NHL level. It's hard to see Dany Heatley last season come over from San Jose and all of a sudden learn about the hatred and the Wild have against the Blackhawks because it isn't on a level of Minnesota-North Dakota. It isn't even on the level of last weekend's "letdown series" between Minnesota and Minnesota State.

Heck, fans aren't calling for Andrew Brunette's head after he went from the Wild to the Blackhawks last season and they aren't circling this date on the calendar.

NBC Sports Network is in a position where the best game tonight that features two US teams is Minnesota-Chicago. That's fine because these are usually games that the network chooses to broadcast and they draw eyes locally and nationally. However, there are better ways to go than shoehorning in a "rivalry" because of which day the game is shown. Sell the game on Chicago being undefeated with superstars like Patrick Kane or Minnesota's new acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

Rivalries are too important to be watered down. It should and needs to be respected. NBC Sports Network grasps the importance of rivalries in the opening commercial, yet bringing up the importance of a game that is not steeped in history or hatred as one does a disservice to what should be a great nationally televised game.

If it isn't a rivalry, don't call it one.

*If you don't understand the meaning behind "Secord Sucks," here's a link that explains its signficance but you're also making my point.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you acknowledge why this game is on "rivalry night," even if it's only in the last few words of the article. The "rivalry night" moniker is running for the full season, and their options for tonight were Wild-Blackhawks, a game between two Canadian teams, Oilers-Coyotes (now there's a real disaster), and a 9pm CST game between the least popular west coast team and some Canadian team.

    Next week has Bruins-Habs, the following weeks have Blues-Wings and Pens-Flyers. NBC had to succumb to the league's schedule (which was difficult enough on such short notice), but that's not enough reason to drop something that appears to be a long term promotional campaign. I'm sure NBC will have enough input into next season's schedule to ensure fewer matchups like this one sneak through.