The view from the bench

Paul Salomon

For those of you that didn’t catch the latest game on the Outdoor Life Network, and didn’t read last week’s edition of “The Hot Corner,” let me fill you in. Hockey is not a myth. That’s right, after a no-hockey, lockout season, the NHL has returned a changed man.
Last year, in the heart of the strike, the word on the streets was that America didn’t care about hockey, that no one missed the NHL. Not the case. Whether America missed hockey, or whether they were excited for what was to come, opening day attendance was actually higher than before the strike. Twenty-five of the 30 NHL teams had sellouts, and eight teams reported attendance numbers over their building capacity. Better yet, ticket prices were lower, a treat for the loyal fans of the fastest sport on Earth.
The hockey-haters will tell you how boring it is, because “they never score any goals, man,” or how the “ties are totally lame.” Well, the game itself has changed to quiet down all the naysayers. They’ve made all kinds of rule changes concerning everything from the pads to the passes, and all the way down to the ice itself.
If it’s more goals you want, you got ’em. The numbers are way up. The goals per game are up 42 percent since the rule changes, partially due to smaller gloves, pads, and jerseys for the goalie. Power play goals have risen 40 percent as well, helped in part by an increase in interference calls, aimed at cleaning up the physicality of the game and preventing brutality like the infamous “Bertuzzi hit” of 2004. Subtler rule changes allow for more athletic breakaway speed and passes, adding to the excitement and pace of the new game.
There are no more ties either. After a 20-minute four-on-four OT, games will be decided by a shootout. The winner gets 2 standings points for the win, and an overtime loss gets a team a single point. The shootouts are a truly exhilarating element of the new game. They are absolute exhibitions of athleticism on the shooter side and the goalie side, and either way, the fans can enjoy the excitement.
The game really is quite different now. And it’s playing out differently for the teams. Look at the Nashville Predators. Nashville finished the ’03-’04 season with a mediocre 91 points, but this year they’re telling a different tale. The Preds are looking at one of the best starts in hockey history with an 8-0-0 record.
ESPN and FOX didn’t have faith in the return of the NHL, and so there are no games on national TV. You’ll have to check OLN and FSN North if you want to find the NHL. You’ll have to look just a little bit harder, but do look harder, because hockey is back, and it’s more athletic and more exciting than ever.