Stanley Cup Game Reaches Huge Audience — For Hockey

Wings-Penguins Game 7 hits largest audience since 1973

On the question of whether or not hockey is "back," it's important to keep things in context. Was hockey ever really here?

Compared to most professional sports, no: MLB and the NFL and even the NBA drown hockey in the ratings. College sports like the Final Four and BCS easily outperform the "fourth" major professional sport. This is not a new thing. Excluding the occasional dip and spike here and there, hockey has, at least in the past 20 years, consistently ranked behind the other sports in TV ratings and apparent popularity.

But that's not all doom and gloom. Hockey did quite well for itself pre-strike, before it became only slightly more popular than the MLS. It can thrive in that fourth pro sport position. And if this year's Stanley Cup is any indication, it's set to do just that.

Yes, the final game between the Red Wings and the Penguins -- a rematch of last year's title replete with history and dynasty on one hand (Detroit and full of exciting young players on the other (Pittsburgh) -- drew in 8 million viewers on Friday night. Not too shabby. Of course, that would be a modest audience for another sport, but it was the hockey audience since 1973. That's a big deal.

Overall, the Stanley Cup did well for NBC, which means the unlikelihood that hockey ever becomes a household sport in the U.S., it's on it's way back up. Hockey owners -- and fans who'd like more coverage, thank you very much -- might reasonaby jump for joy.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, Follow him on Twitter.

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