ESPN Ignores Hockey Deaths, Pulling Hockey Community Closer Together

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 05: Boise State Broncos fan Kara Dudley of Idaho holds up an "Occupy ESPN" sign during a game between the Broncos and the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium November 5, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Boise State won 48-21. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

ESPN ignored a full year of hockey tragedy in their 2011 Year in Review segment. But as coverage of the game shifts, it's time to realize that ESPN doesn't control the message anymore. Average fans do.

I'm not one of those hockey fans that feels ESPN should treat us like first-class citizens. I'm obviously an advocate for our sport and somebody that thinks hockey is far superior to baseball, football, basketball or any other game that's played on the planet, but I'm also not out of touch.

I realize that hockey fans are in the minority, and that as long as it's an expensive game to play and a complicated game to understand, the sport will never catch on the way basketball or football or baseball have. When I was a kid, it was $25 a season to play baseball. Hockey was nearly $1,000 a season. It's just sort of the way it is. Hockey will never match up in popularity in places where you can't just pick up a puck and a stick and go play on the pond, and as a result, the NHL will never be as popular as MLB or the NFL. If you haven't resigned yourself to that yet, you should do it now.

At the same time, ESPN is still a news organization, and their embarrasing refusal to cover even the most obvious hockey stories via their television product was on full display over the Christmas holiday, when they aired their annual Year In Review special. In that special, they honor athletes who have passed away in the last calendar year, and despite the tragic year the hockey family suffered, we were completely ignored by the Worldwide Leader in the 2011 edition.

We'll let a FanPost at Flyers blog Broad Street Hockey do the explaining.

ESPN aired their tribute to athletes who have died in 2011.

Not a single hockey player was mentioned.

So, here, I would like to pay tribute to those players of the sport (whether active in 2011 or not) and any dedicated staff members who passed away. The crew killed on the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash is included as well.

Mention anyone who is missed, and they will be added.

Remember those who were lost. They are part of our world as hockey players. ESPN forgets, but we will not.

What followed was a lengthy list of members of the hockey community who passed on in 2011, crowdsourced by readers from all across the Internet. It's a remarkably long list that included both active players, coaches, scouts and others, as well as those who were no longer active at the time of their death.

Its length is both tragic, message-sending, and oddly therapeutic. The rest of the sports world may have forgotten about the tragic deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, or the shocking tragedy that was the loss of the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club.

They may not have ever even heard of Mandi Schwartz, the Yale womens hockey player who lost her inspring battle with leukemia, in April. They may not have remembered the life of E.J. McGuire, the highly-respected head of NHL Central Scouting, who also passed from cancer in April, or that of Harley Hotchkiss, the NHL owner responsible for bringing the league to Calgary.

But that's the therapy of it. They might not have remembered, but we remember. In light of a slap in the face from THE trendsetters in American sports media, the hockey community has come together and said that they won't be ignored.

Luckily, we live in a time when we don't have to be ignored, even when the so-called Worldwide Leader In Sports does just that. More than ever, that "hockey community" today doesn't include just players, coaches, front office staff and owners. It includes you, me, and that guy with the tattoos that sits in the sixth row of Section 127.

The lack of hockey coverage from networks like ESPN is disappointing and at times insulting, but it's forced the NHL to get creative in how they view the media. Five years ago, I was an average fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, and now, I've attended NHL Drafts, All-Star Games, the Stanley Cup Final, two Winter Classics and countless regular season games as a member of the media.

I don't say this to toot my own horn, because we have an entire network of writers that have the had the similar opportunities. In every case, those chances to embed average fans inside NHL locker rooms have hopefully brought other average fans closer to the sport they love.

We're not the only ones doing it, either. Puck Daddy at Yahoo! Sports has become a must-read for hockey fans, as has Pro Hockey Talk at NBC and countless team blogs around the web that aren't part of the SB Nation network. NHL.com is, for my money, the best league-run website on the Internet, NHL Network is consistently improving their coverage, and the soon-to-be-launched NBC Sports Network has already proven that they'll be dedicated to covering hockey in a suitable manner.

Twitter is the great equalizer in all of it, of course, and while I don't have to numbers to back up a claim that hockey fans are some of the most vocal Tweeters, I do know that hockey topics trend worldwide more than the Worldwide Leader In Sports would ever have you believe.

Quality hockey coverage is out there, and in most cases, that coverage is bringing fans closer to the game than ever before. So while it might be frustrating and it might be insulting when ESPN ignores us, especially over highly emotional topics like the most tragic year the sport has ever seen, it's time to realize that it doesn't matter.

No matter what, we're not going to forget. That's what's important.

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