How do we do this? Well, there is no one way and there is no "right" way, but I think there are some simple things we all can do to spread the love for this great sport.
1. Don't Be "That Guy".
Every time you go to a hockey game, or are watching one at a bar there is that one obnoxious, ignorant fan. The type of fan that ruins the game for everyone else and destroys what we are all looking for when we treat ourselves to a game; fun. It's supposed to be fun for everyone, so don't ruin it for others.
Now, I know I can get excited, worked-up, and stressed out but I try to keep it from affecting others. I do my fair share of trash talking as well, but I try to keep it all in good fun. For example, I attended the LA Kings final home game of the 08-09 season. A Sharks fan sat in front of me and ribbed on Kings fans all night, but when it was all said and done, the Kings won the game. Afterward, she looked at me and said "at least the Sharks made the playoffs," to which I replied "enjoy choking in the first round... yet again." She paused a moment, then smiled. No hard feelings, it's all in good fun.
2. Encourage Younger Fans.
I can whine all day about how fans of other mainstream sports don't give hockey a chance or about how they are too unsophisticated to enjoy a "real" sport like hockey, but when it comes down to it, adults have their minds made up. Most adults know what they like and they stick to it.
So get your little brother or cousin or neighbor into it. Take them to a live game for their birthday, show them a game on TV, play a hockey video game with them. Kids are more open-minded and are more likely to give the sport a chance. It's better than wasting your time on your friends who won't give the sport the time of day.
3. Support Your Losers.
Nobody likes a loser, but if you're a true fan then you'll still love them. Go to a game and see them get buried. Watch them on TV and throw popcorn at the set. Wear your jersey out and get made fun of. It's part of being a fan and it makes it that much sweeter when they actually win.
4. Teach People The Game.
Who hasn't sat down to a game with a newbie and heard "what's icing?" or "where's the puck?" Don't laugh at them, help them out. If someone understands the sport they're much more likely to become a fan. Don't just tell them what icing is, explain why it's a rule. It's much easier to remember it that way. Don't just point the puck out to them, teach them how to find it. I like to tell people not to look for the puck. That's like trying to find Waldo. Look at the body language of the players. You can always find the puck when you know how someone acts when they have it.
5. Support Other Teams.
This may sound odd or counterproductive, but don't stop at one team. Be a fan of many teams. It's only more beneficial to the league for you to support as many teams as you want. I personally have an Eastern Conference team, the Hurricanes, and a Western Conference team, the Kings.
Even if your team(s) don't make the playoffs, pick one to support. The more fans following the playoffs, the more attention it gets from hockey outsiders. Our sport is major league sport. Our sport is on television. Our sport is great, so let's make sure other people know why.
***For fun, I think I'll do a post about how to be an elitist hockey snob. Just to keep the balance of the world right...