Top 10 Ways to Improve Hockey

Hockey might be in trouble because people these days are putting less down on their first-home mortgages than what it would cost to keep little Jimmy in hockey gear from his early days to a brief flirtation with the pros stymied by early injury, chemical dependency and despair. Nonetheless, as Canadians, we can appreciate the appeal of a sport that indulges the adolescent desire to elbow a contemporary in the mouth at high speeds. Hockey is our national pastime and really few other sports are as definitively Canadian – what with all the Tim Horton’s coffee advertisement and hard falls on ice.

What first appears as pong with fist-fights is actually quite a nuanced game. The keen eye will note that unlike in soccer where the area behind the net is reserved for drunken yobs, in hockey it’s part of the field of play. And that’s just the beginning. Baseball would be a hell of a lot more interesting and infielders would be kept on their toes if a player could hold onto the bat after a hit. It’s also physically grueling. In basketball, you can field a championship team with five decent guys and, say, three more to bring them lunch. Hockey is more physically demanding, primarily due to that fast constant moving with heavy padding, stress over dental bills and putting up with the arena music, so players are constantly rotated in and out. Also the goalie masks mean it has produced more big screen butchers than any other sport.

We only watch hockey games when we’re on the losing end of an argument with a bartender who doesn’t understand what’s so special about Spanish-dubbed Let’s Make a Deal, but that does not have us from being highly opinionated on the subject and sharing our viewpoints with the world. Here are 10 ways that the National Hockey League can overcome such logical questions as: Why would you be surprised that the sport is not popular in hot, arid zones where it could never be played outdoors? Televised ladies competitive under 30 bowling better take note as the NHL could soon pull ahead in the ratings.

10. Bring Back Belligerent Hockey Dads

Often found on the sidelines of childhood hockey games is the incensed hockey dad, pushing his son into athletics, not caring whether he’d be rather pirouetting than passing at centre rink. Alas this more often ends up in trauma than it does with dad getting his photo taken alongside Lord Stanley’s Spittoon unless mom has some miracle genes to pass on.

Over-excited dads can sometimes get so into the spirit of the game – or so drunk on something poured into the fountain pop – that they get into fights with other parents. Such characters only grow more bellicose with age and would add a needed edge to the current NHL presentation. As many combative players’ dads as can be assembled for any game should be put in a special rink-side box, given an unlimited bar tab and told that it is still not too late for them to audition for the ice-capades.

9. Sell Players’ Teeth as Souvenirs

Hockey cards in the old days featured the kind of smiles you’d more likely see on a holiday to England. Even with helmets, the smash-mouth nature of the sport lends itself to comfortable livings for those in the dental field, however the teeth are often kept as keepsakes by sentimental players or, presumably, tossed in the “came from a human” bin by rink cleaning staff.

We see this is an inexplicable waste. Cleaners should be on hand to immediately rush out to the rink and scoop out anything that is knocked loose out of a player’s head – apart from, say, eyeballs – to be sold at the souvenir stand or be a top prize in a lucky draw.

8. Include the Zamboni in Active Play

Sports die due to monotony, which is why baseball now has National and American league teams playing each other during the regular season and why the NBA has a guy named Metta Worldpeace busting ear drums. The zamboni is already a beloved fixture of hockey games, but we only see it when players are off the ice. Introducing it into game play would give a challenging obstacle for players to avoid and also deal with any detritus that hits the rink before the buzzer sounds.

7. No More Pads for Goalies

If we were to liken hockey to elementary school, the popular kids would be the high scorers, the defencemen the underachievers just hanging on, the referees the principals, the teachers the coaches and the nerds/outcasts would be the goalies. Goalies are chosen because their assemblages block out much of the net and they earned that position in youth because they weren’t able to skate quickly enough to chase down smart asses who called them fat growing up.

The over-padding of hockey goalies slows down the game. Removing padding will do what steroids did for baseball – make it more fun to watch by giving players opportunities to achieve scores unthinkable in previous generations. Also it would sharpen up the defencemen if they have any compassion for the goalie.

6. Make the Opposing Team Dress like the Evil Guys in ‘Strange Brew’

Dressing up the opposing team in the attire worn by the mental patients at the centre of a Max Von Sydow mind experiment would be a fitting tribute to this, one of the greatest hockey films ever made (admittedly a ‘best of’ for this genre wouldn’t take long to compile and would include at least one Mighty Ducks film by default).
Note: This is also the only movie in cinema history in which the protagonists try and score free beer by claiming they found a mouse inside the bottle.

5. Bring Back Old-Timers

Stadiums often host old-timer games in which the stars of yesteryear make like the managers of baseball and suit up many years after they have taken that final stick to the face. It’s a fun tradition that plays to nostalgia but essentially meaningless as the games are one-offs done for charity and the players are often focused on having fun, which is death to any form of competition.

We would initiate a system whereby old-timers’ games are held in every stadium that hosts an NHL team prior to the start of the season. The highest scorers from each of these games would then automatically earn a starting spot on the team the stadium hosts. In the case of two players scoring an equal number of goals, the older person wins the spot as a sign of respect for vintage.

4. Sell Seats to the Penalty Box

With NHL ticket costs soaring above the $100 mark for non-premium seats in some markets, it’s essential that the league starts thinking about what kind of value spectators are getting for their money. To that end, we would suggest selling seats inside the penalty box. Since fighting is encouraged in North American hockey to differentiate from the effete version played by Europeans there will be no shortage of hockey goons to keep fans company. And plus it’ll give said goons some company before they are railroaded out of the league on substance abuse charges.

3. Introduce Quarters

The only sports organized according to odd prime numbers are by sheer coincidence the ones that spill the most blood: MMA and hockey. MMA has three rounds and hockey three periods. This is an anomaly in the sporting world and probably upsets spectators on some subconscious level as most sports have quarters and halves. (Baseball is an exception, but that is a deeply flawed sport as we outlined in our Ways to Improve Baseball.) Dividing hockey in two opens the possibility of a spectacular half-time show, the kind with performers doing things on ice other than playing hockey – like ice-dancing, or maybe trying to ride a bicycle or something.

2. Take out the Plexiglas Boards

The NHL, as mentioned, faces challenges to its survival, namely the fact that it’s getting to be too expensive to sponsor kids playing it and the fact that nobody gives a damn about it among a large segment of the North American sports-viewing public. The NHL needs fewer barriers to fans and the plexiglass boards at games should be the first to come down.

Baseball fans bring gloves to snag foul balls and have a souvenir for a lifetime. Hockey fans can put on goalie masks and wear several sweaters at once to cushion the impact of a puck fired at 105mph.

1. Play Outside

Hockey has enjoyed its greatest popularity in a country where the vast majority of the land is inhospitable tundra, uninhabitable for all but wolves and people who are good at ice-fishing. In days of yore it was played during the winter on frozen ponds. Let’s get back to that tradition by staging games outdoors on frozen lakes or bodies of water large enough to accommodate a regulation sized rink area.

Fans would be seated on shore due to the risk of NHL experts misjudging the thickness of the ice and the whole works giving way to cracks and frozen horror deaths. Players, referees, coaching staff and mascots would agree to assume such risks when signing up, but presumably insurance considerations would be too great to ask fans to do so.