TORONTO — Even before the puck dropped on the NHL season, Canada's teams were in competition with each other on social media.
Building an online community has become a going concern among NHL teams, especially with 74 per cent of Canadian Twitter users describing themselves as hockey fans. Just like on the ice, phenoms Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have given the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, an edge over the competition.
Matthews and McDavid were the players on Canadian teams most tweeted about during the 2016-17 season. Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price was third and, unsurprisingly, their teams were the most followed in the past 12 months.
"These young stars in all the different Canadian cities are really driving a lot of conversation," said Christopher Doyle, head of sports for Twitter Canada, on Wednesday. "When we looked at the top 10 most mentioned players on Canadian teams, it was Matthews, McDavid, Carey Price of the Canadiens, always have a lot of conversation.
"Then you had two other Leafs in the top 10 with William Nylander and Mitch Marner and then Patrik Laine in Winnipeg as well."
Rounding out the top 10 mentions list are Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber, Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson and Montreal captain Max Pacioretty.
The Maple Leafs renaissance, driven by the emergence of Matthews, Marner and Nylander, saw Toronto gain more than 375,000 followers in the past 12 months. Montreal added over 333,000 and Edmonton picked up 186,000.
Doyle believes that NHL clubs, especially Canada's seven teams, are invested in interacting with fans online to add to the hockey viewing experience. As part of that, Twitter and the NHL have partnered to create unique hashtags for every team in the league that will add an emoji of the team's logo when tweeted.
"They're competing on the ice and in the standings and we see that natural competition spreading online too," said Doyle. "I think this happens in every league but I find that it happens more often in the NHL where the official team accounts are responding to each other.
"I think you see these accounts personifying the team on Twitter. Because Twitter's such a personal medium you really feel like you're following the personality or brand of the team."
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press