Hockey’s Olympian auds

Team Canada has the Great White North glued to TV sets

MONTREAL — Canadians love their hockey. Everyone already knows that. But the Olympic Canadian men’s hockey team has generated the sort of out-of-this-world ratings on Canuck TV that has astonished folks in the business.

Keith Pelley, who heads the broadcast consortium of Canadian networks airing the Olympics, says the ratings for the Team Canada games are about 4 million to 5 million viewers higher per game than even they expected. So what gives?

Pelley thinks it’s because the games are in Vancouver, and there’s a huge added draw as Canadian National Hockey League stars defend their honor on Canadian soil.

“Having the games in your own country transcends sports,” Pelley says. “You’re getting way more than the sports fans watching it. This

isn’t about a hockey game. This is about pride. Canadians tend to be so conservative in so many ways, but are so competitive when it comes down to hockey. And you can’t lose in hockey in your own country. It’s our game. We believe we’re the best.”

The Feb. 23 game in which Canada trounced Germany averaged 7.4 million viewers, with 19.2 million tuning in to at least some part of the lopsided matchup. More excitement was generated Feb. 21 when Team USA, Canada’s archrival, which also featured NHL players, narrowly defeated the Canucks, with the game averaging 10.6 million viewers. The Feb. 24 game against traditional powerhouse Russia scored 10.5 million viewers. Broadcasters declared the U.S. game “the most-watched sports program on record in Canadian television history.”

Even the warm-up games did boffo ratings: Feb. 16’s Canada-Norway match garnered an average of 6.2 million viewers, and the Canada-Switzerland nail-biter on Feb. 18 — Canada won in a shootout — drew 6.8 million.

With hockey drawing such amazing numbers in Canada — and actually doing pretty well for MSNBC in the States — many are wondering if NHL boss Gary Bettman will be able to stick to his guns regarding his suggestion that this might well be the last time NHL superstars lace up to compete in the Olympics.

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