It’s no secret that big sporting events like the NBA Finals and Super bowl Sunday reach huge audiences that expand all over the world. As for hockey and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, audiences are usually limited to the U.S, Canada, and Europe. A study done by Sports Media Watch in 2014 compares minority views for large sports events of that year: the NBA Finals brought in a whopping 10.15 million for minority views, while the Stanley Cup playoffs brought in a catastrophically lower 632,00 in views.
In 1998, Hispanics broke NHL barriers when Scott Gomez, of Mexican and Colombian descent, was drafted 27th overall in the first round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Gomez became the NHL’s first ever Hispanic player in league history. He would go on to win two Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 2003 and a Calder for Rookie of the Year in 2000 before announcing his retirement just last year.
It was Gomez who opened the door for other Hispanic NHL players later on, such as Montreal Canadiens goalie, Al Montoya, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward, Auston Matthews.
Montoya, currently Carey Price’s backup, brought a huge Hispanic audience to BB&T Center when he signed with the Florida Panthers in the 2014-2015 season. While playing for Florida, Montoya received the nickname “El Gran Cubano.” His arrival marked the beginning of a growth in the diversity of fans at Panthers games. Montoya attended charity events and did interviews where he spoke about his Cuban background. In 2015, the Panthers organization started hosting a free hockey clinic for kids in Kendall, a dominantly Hispanic area in Miami. Although Montoya was traded to Montreal in the summer of 2016, there is no doubt that he left a lasting impact in southern Floridian hockey culture.
In the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Maple Leafs picked Auston Matthews first overall, rewarding him with a respectable and honorable title: the highest drafted Latino in NHL history.
Matthews, born and raised in Arizona, is of Mexican descent on his mother’s side. During his NHL debut on October 12th, recorded his first career hat trick for a total of four points against the Ottawa Senators. For a 19-year-old Mexican teen to come out of Arizona—a non-traditional hockey market—and be drafted 1st overall was unheard of. Until now.
While teams like the New Jersey Devils hosted Latino/Hispanic Heritage Night last season, the San Jose Sharks live tweeted a game in Spanish, and the Chicago Blackhawks now radio broadcast a number of games in partnership with Univision, there is more to be done. As for now, we optimize on seeing more Hispanic success in the future of this league, and hope that a hockey stick becomes as normal a piece of a Hispanic household as that of a baseball mitt or a soccer ball.