Big sports weekend, right? A whole lot of college football yesterday between ranked teams, some of which was compelling (condolescences to fans of Notre Dame, UCLA and Oregon State, among others). Baseball pennant races reaching a crescendo (hang in there, Cubs and Mariners fans). A full slate of NFL games on the horizon today (is Zach Wilson really capable of taking down the Patriots?).
Maybe that’s the case in this hemisphere.
But in Australia, they’re more than a little preoccupied with some other things. The AFL semi-finals–no, not the ones that were last played in 1969 that saw Joe Namath’s reign as a Super Bowl champion unceremoniously end with a lackluster 13-6 loss to the eventual champion Kansas City Chiefs on a frigid Shea Stadium dirt–er, turf. That’s Australian rules football, mate. If you’re scoring at home (and, I’m told, in Australia, more do), here’s how Dean Bilton and Andrew McGarry of ABC News (no, not the one that Robin Roberts works for) Brisbane reported it:
The Brisbane Lions are into the AFL grand final for the first time in 19 years after a 16-point win over Carlton in their preliminary final at the Gabba.
The Lions dominated the second and third terms, then withstood a late charge from the Blues to win by 11.13 (79) to 9.9 (63).
Brisbane will face Collingwood in next Saturday’s grand final, after the Magpies beat GWS by a point in the other preliminary final.
But if you’re like me, you were probably far more interested in what else went down indoors, as AFP recounted:
Swede Adrian Kempe scored twice as the Los Angeles Kings wrapped up the National Hockey League’s historic tour of Australia with a 3-2 pre-season victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.
The Kings, who crashed in the first round of last season’s playoffs, were scoreless in the opening two periods before finishing strongly at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena.
The Coyotes beat the Kings 5-3 at the same venue on Saturday in the NHL’s first foray into the Southern Hemisphere.
Ice hockey is popular in North America and parts of Europe but is mostly a niche sport elsewhere and the NHL is attempting to expand its global footprint.
The pre-season event attracted near sellouts with more than 26,000 fans attending the two games at Rod Laver Arena, which is better known for the annual Australian Open tennis grand slam.
Put in perspective, that’s roughly the size of five home game crowds for the Coyotes, who currently play their regular season games in a college hockey arena on the campus of Arizona State University.
And while the NHL has held Global Series to open their pre-season in past years unaffected by COVID, they have been concentrated in European countries. The opportunity to be the first event involving ice to be held in such a storied venue, much like the appeal of the outdoor events that have seen the sport transcend its niche popularity by bringing a rink into unlikely surroundings like baseball and football stadiums, was particuarly opportunistic. Drawing crowds that robust head-to-head with what is the equivalent of Championship Sunday for NFL fans is not insignificant.
Meanwhile, pucks are already dropping in North America as well. A split squad of Coyotes–they did finish as the worst team in the NHL’s Western Conference last year, after all, so they could use the work–helped the St. Louis Blues open their pre-season last night. As is the case with several teams, they actually offered up enough skaters to offer up a double-header, one of which took place in a minor league hotbed, as the Blues’ website reported:
Josh Doan scored a hat trick for the Arizona Coyotes en route to a 5-1 win against the St. Louis Blues in the second game of a split-squad doubleheader on Saturday night.
The game was played at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.
Doan’s three goals led the way for Arizona, who also got goals from Conor Geekie and Julian Lutz.
Alexey Toropchenko scored the lone goal for St. Louis when he lit the lamp just 14 seconds into the third period.
The game featured three fights – Isaac Ratcliffe, Sammy Blais and Nathan Walker each dropped the gloves in the contest.
Oh, incidentally, Nathan Walker? Currently the NHL’s only Australian-born player.
Maybe since he’s a member of the St. Louis Blues he’s also a fan of the Carlton Blues, and was a little miffed their season was ending while he was working literally in the middle of America?
Oh, well. There’s always next year there.
And today, with 11 more pre-season games on tap, next year is finally hear for hockey fans.