By Rob Ficiur
The only constant in our world is change. Many of the older generation used to think a text was a book, not a message on a phone. A cell used to be something you studied in biology not something that many of us have riveted to our ears. As constant as change is, it is remarkable how new ideas can seem so obvious once they are adopted. In recent weeks I have noted how three changes have had or have the potential to have positive changes for sports fans.
1. NHL TV coverage in Canada – A year ago many of us were shocked when Rogers Sportsnet won the Canadian NHL TV hockey rights. CBC has had for over half a century – how could someone else do it? Half a season later, it seems clear that the change has made hockey more available to fans. Forty years ago CBC carried one game on a Saturday night. About twenty years ago CBC added the late game so fans got a double header. Under Sportsnet there are six games televised every Saturday. Even non-sports channels like City and FX Canada carry a weekly game.
For years Canadian networks found ways to share Olympic coverage. One network got the main sports, but other events were covered by various sports channels. The end result was that viewers had a choice of what Olympic coverage they wanted to watch.
This weekend the Winnipeg – Toronto game went over time on CBC. Instead of missing out the first ten minutes of the outdoor game in San Jose that game was switched over to Sportsnet until the CBC game was over. Bottom line fans get to watch more of the games they want to see. Regional restrictions still prevent us from watching some games – but the time will come when every game will be accessible on TV – because it is already available on the internet.
2. World Cup of Hockey – The 2018 North Korea Winter Olympics are only three years away. The NHL and the NHL Players Association recently took a step that will likely mean that NHL players won’t’ play in the North Korean games. From the outset the time zones would have made this a hard to watch Olympics. Right or wrong there have been security concerns about going to North Korea.
When the NHL announced that the World Cup of Hockey tournament will be played in the fall of 2016, it did not mean we would not have NHL players at the Olympics.
The World Cup of Hockey, a distant cousin the Canada Cup hockey tournament, was played in 1996 and 2004. The tournament has had a few wrinkles added which will make it a competitive tournament. For the tournament to balance there needs to be eight teams. Realistically the top six countries are several notches above Germany & Slovakia. The latter two countries combined for one win and ten losses in the previous two World Cup tournaments.
Instead of including two uncompetitive teams, the 2016 World Cup will have two new teams. First will be the European All Stars comprised of players from all the countries not in the World Cup. The roster of this team will be made of some very talented NHL players; creating a much more competitive team than the previous format.
The second new team will be made the Young Stars, made up of North American players under the age of 23. In the past this Young Gun group rarely contributed key players to the Canadian or American teams. Stars on this team will include 20014 rookie of the Year Nathan McKinnon, 2015 top pick Connor McDavid and Calgary Flames centre Sean Monahan. These proven NHL players will be competitive; maybe more competitive than the older generation would have thought.
IN the end these innovative ideas create two competitive teams that could not have existed in the previous format.
3. NHL Western Clubs Minor League teams relocating out west. Next season the American Hockey League will have five new teams, all based out of California. The parent clubs will be the three California teams and the two Alberta NHL clubs. Calgary has had a hard time finding a good location for their AHL team. This year’s team in Glenn Falls, NY is a full day’s plane ride. For previous five years the Flames had the Abbotsford Heat in the ideal location. The problem was that no other AHL teams were in that geographic area. The Heat had to travel to the Midwest to find an opponent. Now, with five teams in California travel will be reduced.
Another innovative idea came with this expansion. Traditionally all AHL teams play 76 games. Because of travel time, the initial plan is to have the five western teams play fewer games (about 70). The American Hockey League is supposed to be a developmental league. By considering the rigors of travel, the league has realized that best thing for these players is to something different to help aide in their development.
In a future sports column, I will speculate other innovations that can / should / will come to the World of Sports.