Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

He Might Be Right

Pedro Morales is a pretty good soccer player. He currently stars for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS, and he's revitalized a Vancouver soccer community that needed a star to help spark the fire in rekindling the interest in the game. While he's been embraced by the soccer community as a phenom with the ball, the Chilean midfielder still struggles with the English language at this time. When being asked questions by reporters, he can occasionally offer up a thought that might ruffle some feathers on the outset.

Craig MacEwan from Sportsnet caught up with Morales who was asked if soccer's popularity is growing in Canada and across the MLS from his perspective. Morales' response was one that caught everyone, including teammate and fill-in translator Omar Salgado, off-guard.
"Soccer can take over hockey one day in Canada. It should happen in ten to 20 years," Morales proudly stated before the Whitecaps boarded their flight to Chicago where they'll play the Fire on Wednesday night.
That'sa pretty bold statement by Morales in a country that is obsessed with hockey. However, and this may raise some eyebrows, he actually may be closer to the truth than he is away from it. Hear me out on this one.

Hockey is an expensive game to play nowadays. Between equipment, tournaments, indoor ice rentals, travel, and league registration fees, the cost of playing hockey has become astronomical for parents today. With the rate that kids grow up, the cost of keeping them in equipment that fits can mean new equipment year after year as they develop into adults. In other words, hockey is becoming a sport that is better suited for those that either have the money upfront and can afford it or for those that are willing to sacrifice a number of smaller things so their kids have a shot at the NHL one day.

The CBC published a report on September 30, 2013 that looked at a number of issues that parents face when choosing sports for their kids. According to the CBC's report, the average cost to outfit a child in hockey equipment is about $740 annually. Comparatively, to outfit a child in soccer gear averaged out around $160 annually. If you're doing the math, that's a $580 difference annually when it comes to outfitting your child in gear. I'm pretty sure that families can use $580 in a multitude of ways when it comes to the overall household budget.

Secondly, we already know that soccer registration numbers are higher than hockey numbers in Canada for children aged 14-and-under. In fact, 42.3% of kids 14-and-under already practice soccer - a number that nearly beats swimming, ranked second at 24.1%, and hockey, ranked third at 22%, combined. In other words, soccer is currently the sporting choice for Canadian kids 14-and-under.

Now you might be asking about adults since they're making the decision for their kids. Consider this fact dug up in the July 15, 2014 article of MacLean's magazine: "Canadians bought more than 29,000 tickets to this year's World Cup matches, according to FIFA. We outranked all other nations that didn't qualify, and were behind only 10 nations that did." Also in that article was this gem: "An estimated 3.1 million Canadians tuned in July 9 to CBC's English-language broadcast of the Argentina-Netherlands semifinal — just 200,000 short of the 3.3 million who watched the final game between the Rangers and Kings."

It doesn't stop there, though. MacLean's Amanda Shendruk also wrote,
Canada ranks ninth in the world when it comes to registered athletes in soccer. According to a 2006 FIFA census, one in 39 Canadians is enrolled in the sport at some level. By comparison, one in 40 Italians plays. In the United States, it's one in 72. Germany ranked the highest with one soccer athlete for every 14 people.
That's a staggering number of Canadians playing a sport that we've long ignored in our own borders. Hockey is held onto like it's the most valuable identity we possess, but we might be clinging to something that is losing its luster because of the high cost of playing that sport. Here's a graphic by Miss Shendruk that helps illustrated the above paragraphs.

We saw the images from Brazil of shoeless kids playing soccer on a beach or in a dusty field. All they needed was a ball and the willingness to participate in order to play soccer. They didn't need nets or sidelines or referees or indoor fields to play, laugh, and enjoy the sport. Soccer is the world's most popular sport, and it becomes even more evident in a microcosm when looking at Canada. Unless you were born into a culture that holds hockey so dear (Canada) or baseball as its pastime (USA), it's pretty evident that those sports fall off the radar for new citizens of those countries. Miss Shendruk wrote,
The Institute of Canadian Citizenship just released a national study exploring how new citizens participate in Canada’s sporting culture. The most popular team sport for new citizens is soccer — 18 per cent report playing the game in their new country. The pastime follows running, swimming and biking. By comparison, only six per cent of new citizens have enrolled their children in hockey or baseball.
There could be a vast number of reasons for new citizens not registering their kids in hockey, but the most obvious answers are usually the most truthful - they come from soccer-playing countries and cultures, and the cost of enrolling kids in a foreign sport for new citizens is not a cost they're willing to absorb. Personally, I know a few immigrant families who have settled into daily life here in Canada quite nicely, and they still feel the cost of playing hockey is far too high compared with the amount of enjoyment that children get out of it.

Additionally, Miss Shendruk wrote, "Nine in 10 Canadians think sports are too expensive, and 82 per cent know a child who cannot participate due for that reason" based on a CIBC report. 90% of Canadians think all sports in general are too expensive to play, and more than four-of-five people know a child who can't play due to the costs! Does anyone see a problem with that statement?!?

Let's keep digging, though. On November 30, 2012, The Globe and Mail published Roy MacGregor's article about the rising costs of the game. I'm going to highlight a number of passages below that should show you the state of the game in Canada. Here we go.
It is a refrain heard again and again across this country, which worships hockey as its national game. Minor hockey, most especially at the competitive level, is fast becoming an elitist sport rather than, as it once was, the winter game of the masses.
Elitist sport? That's a negative.
The cost of kids' hockey is of growing national concern, from the outdoor community rink to the offices of Hockey Canada. Registration has slipped in recent years and one estimate claims barely 10 per cent of Canadian youngsters aged 5-19 are playing organized hockey.
Registration has slipped, and estimates have 10% of kids playing. Not good at all.
There is no doubt that costs – even before registration – can be high. Given the choice between outfitting a kid for soccer rather than hockey can be equal roughly to the choice between walking to the corner store and chartering a helicopter to pick up the milk.
That's actually a pretty accurate comparison for a lot of Canadian families, and that's sad to say.
There is unfortunately a significant Apple Effect in minor hockey: youngsters successfully pressuring parents to buy top brands even when the equipment is far beyond the level being played.
I'm well beyond my "youngster years", and I have never owned a stick that has cost more than $50. In fact, I still prefer wood over composite when playing. Today's young players, though, are seen with two or three composite sticks at $100 per stick. That is sickening.

The cost of hockey is killing the game in North America. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that more kids will play soccer than they will hockey simply because of how tightly-stretched a middle-class family's budget is nowadays. However, there are things that can be done to reduce costs for parents, and it's time that coaches and organizations to follow some suggestions instead of nickel-and-diming these hard-working folks to death. These include:
  • Get back on outdoor ice. While I respect the ideals that kids shouldn't be practicing in -40C weather, there's no reason why teams can't head outdoors in -10C to -20C temperatures.
  • Start mandating fun. Force creativity. Stop teaching systems to kids younger than 10 years of age. If kids have fun, they'll be back. If it feels like work, they'll walk away.
  • Wood sticks only. Kids are developing, and there's no way any of them have Brett Hull-like flex on their sticks before they are teenagers. Stop with the composite dream.
  • Equipment manufacturers should reward families for playing by offering equipment recycling. Bauer, Reebok, Easton, and the likes should give cash back for trading in equipment of a smaller size for a bigger size. And forget $5 or $10 off. I'm talking real value in trading up - half the value of the new equipment. Profiting off kids who just want to play is bad business.
  • More off-ice training. While drills on the ice are important, dry-land training is just as important, if not more important! Kids should run, play, stickhandle, and have fun while training off the ice. Why do NHL players spend a ton of time in the off-season working on off-ice training? Because it's important!
Look, these are suggestions. I know they won't all be incorporated, but I'd like to see one minor-hockey team do this for a season to see if they get the results they want. I think the social experiment would be intriguing, and I'd love to see how the team fares over the season both in the standings and growing closer as teammates. I'm pretty sure that the pocketbooks of the parents would be a little heavier, and that goes a long way to building better hockey families.

I admit that I am a casual soccer fan. However, I love hockey, and we're forcing hockey's greatest resource out of the game because of cost. Kids are our most important hockey resource, and the majority of them aren't able to play.

Maybe, just maybe, Pedro Morales sees the horizon better than we do at this point.

Until next time, keep costs down and the kids in the game!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Look What I Found

For years, we've been seeing NHL players wear the patch for the Stanley Cup Final on their chests. The only team that doesn't, it seems, is the New York Rangers. Clearly, if they wear the patch opposite the captaincy designations, the patch would sit over the "R" in the diagonal "Rangers" that covers the front of their uniforms. The Rangers, therefore, move the patch to the shoulder where it can be prominently displayed. No other team wore the patch on the shoulder, we've been led to believe, until I made a startling discovery while away this past weekend.

I had plopped myself down in a Buffalo Wild Wings on Friday for some wings, and happened to glance around at the myriad of televisions they have on the walls. Golf was prominently displayed on several, but a couple of TVs had the NHL Network on. The NHL Network was showing Game Six of the 1989 Stanley Cup Final between the visiting Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens. As I watched the action on the screen, I noticed something very unusual.
That's Al MacInnis with the Stanley Cup Final patch on his shoulder! As a side note, MacInnis won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1989 after becoming the first defenceman in NHL history to lead the playoffs in scoring! He had 31 points in that postseason in making history! The Flames also became the first relocated team to win the Stanley Cup after moving in 1980!

What's notable about the patch is that 1989 was the first season the NHL introduced a patch for the finalists, and BOTH TEAMS wore them on the shoulder of their uniforms! Every subsequent Stanley Cup Final has had the patch worn on the chest by the participants except the New York Rangers in 1994 and 2014! That means that officially the NHL has had three teams wear the patch on their shoulders: the 1989 Calgary Flames, the 1989 Montreal Canadiens, and the New York Rangers. The 1993 Montreal Canadiens wore the patch on the front of their uniforms, and the 2004 Calgary Flames had the patch on the front of their uniforms as well.

YouTube has a video of the game on their site, so watch closely in the following video to see the patches on the left arms of both the Flames' players and the Canadiens' players.

Hockey history is awesome!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 28 July 2014

85 Seconds Of History

It's pretty quiet in the hockey world right now. We could probably talk about the Daniel Winnik signing in Toronto, but no one really wants to hear about that. After all, the Leafs have all but been mathematically-eliminated from the playoffs at this point in the off-season, so why bother talking about 2014-15 when 2015-16 is so close? Of course, I'm kidding about that, but the "Anybody But Toronto" stance the rest of the NHL has is pretty fun. In any case, Toronto will play a big part in today's article as they have had a couple of teams mentioned that called "The Big Smoke" home.

Designer Ann Frazier has done something pretty cool that we should examine. There have been many maps produced and published on the internet about where teams have played with respect to divisions and conferences, but Ann went one step further in animating her maps. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to your 85-second history class as taught by Miss Ann Frazier!
Pretty solid, right? Not only does she show where the teams played, but logo changes through the years as well. And if you're a music connoisseur or a Hartford Whalers fan, you probably recognized that background music. That's Brass Bonanza! Awesome music selection for the video, Ann!

Granted, it is harder to see some of the logos in the small space. Full-screen on YouTube might be the best way to view this video in all its awesomeness. Even saying that, though, Ann Frazier has done something truly awesome, and I'm glad she's being recognized for it all over the hockey spectrum.

Well done, Ann! Keep up the awesome work!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Stingrays Go Retro

In case you had missed it - and I'm sure a lot of us had since I missed the date as well - the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays unveiled their new alternate jersey for the 2014-15 season on July 18 as seen above. The affiliate of the NHL's Washington Capitals will wear "throwback" jerseys in all eleven Sunday home games this season. They look pretty sharp, to be honest.

According to the release published on the Stingrays' website, the new uniforms will feature "the original Stingrays crest used from their inaugural season (1993-94) to 2000 along with the South Carolina state flag on the shoulders". While they are using the original logo, the jersey isn't a true throwback in itself. Still, this uniform looks pretty solid considering some of the minor-league alternate jerseys we've seen in the past.

"We wanted to incorporate our old logo from the mind 1990s to the early 2000s," Stingrays President Rob Concannon said to Joseph Zakrzewski. "I've always liked the state of South Carolina with the stingray and hockey stick slashing through it. I'm partial to this logo because there are a lot of good memories with it. We won our championship with it in 1996-97. I wanted to keep it clean and with our current colors."

Sunday, November 9 is the first time you'll be able to see these uniforms on the ice the Gwinnett Gladiators visit Charleston, South Carolina for a game against the Stingrays. While footage of the game may be tough to get here in Canada, I'm going to see if I can find a feed to see these uniforms in action. The pre-sale of these uniforms is on now, and the team expects them to be delivered in October.

Could another championship for the Stingrays be on the way in these uniforms?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

ESPN Says So

If you had to name the sport that would rank as toughest in the world, you could come up with a few mentions of hockey, American football, boxing, Aussie rules football, rugby, MMA, and a few others. All of these sports feature some tough characters, and each requires that the participant receives some sort of punishment in overcoming his or her opponent. I was quite shocked, however, to read the following archived page found on the internet from ESPN. Yes, the same ESPN that no longer carries hockey, instead replacing that sport in its lineup with such fascinating spectator sports as poker and dog shows. Excuse the biting sarcasm.

The Worldwide Leader in Something-or-other published this page on its old Page 2 format, but it doesn't give a date of when it was published. However, ESPN asked a panel of experts to weigh in on the toughness needed to play sixty sports, and they went about the task. I already scanned the backgrounds of the professionals posing as the panel of experts, and none have hockey or a hockey-related interest listed anywhere in their information.

So why am I talking about this? The panel actually ranked hockey as the second-toughest sport in terms of demanding the most from the athletes who compete in it. Yes, ESPN actually had something good to say about hockey! In fact, only boxing demanded more from its athletes than hockey did according to this panel. Hockey also ranked ahead of long-time regulars on ESPN like baseball, football, and basketball.

Let me say that again: ESPN's illustrious panel ranked hockey as the toughest team sport ahead of football, baseball, and basketball. Yes, you're reading that correctly.

According to the panel, ice hockey ranked 11th in endurance, tied with tennis. I can actually believe that after watching some of the men's games go five sets and deep into a tie-breaker in that fifth set. Most tennis players collapse after winning that final point out of exhaustion, so I'll give the panel a pass on that one. However, to say that basketball, ranked tenth, requires more endurance than hockey players? Well, they are human so mistakes can happen.

Hockey ranked eighth overall for strength, and there aren't many arguments one can make about the sports than rank ahead of them. I'd argue football should be ranked lower, but some of those linebackers and linemen are specimens, so I'll let this one go.

Ice hockey was fifth on the power rankings, tied with rodeo's steer wrestling and sprint cyclists. While power is defined in this ranking system as "(t)he ability to produce strength in the shortest possible time", the idea of steer wrestling seems like it has little to do with power. Yes, it does take some power, but the majority of the time you see the rodeo cowboys simply use their weight to bulldog the calf into the ground before roping them. Requirement of power? You just have to use momentum to win that battle. Swing and a miss, ESPN.

Hockey ranked fourth in the speed category, tying it with middle-distance track-and-field runners. No arguments about where hockey ranks here, and the three sports above it - track sprinters, speed skaters, and sprint swimmers - all should be ahead of hockey players.

Hockey was also fourth in the agility category, placing behind soccer, basketball, and tennis. Soccer, maybe. Basketball... that's stretching it, but some players show some pretty solid moves in the paint. Tennis absolutely requires agility, and, in my opinion, should have been ranked higher than the other two sports. That being said, I have no qualms about hockey ranking fourth.

In a rather strange ranking, hockey ranked in as 26th in the flexibility category. In a sport where goaltenders make rather acrobatic and often unbelievable saves, hockey finds itself ranked lower than steer wrestling, skateboarding, fencing, basketball, and diving. Yes, diving. Where divers are supposed to remain rigid as they enter the water. Simply amazing, ESPN.

The next category was nerves, and hockey players find themselves ranked 18th. Yes, 18th! According to the definitions provided, nerve is "(t)he ability to overcome fear". We should ask goaltenders about how much nerve it takes to stare down Zdeno Chara, Al MacInnis, Al Iafrate, or Shea Weber slapshots and say "not on my watch". We should ask the defencemen how much nerve it takes to drop down in front of one of these cannons and sacrifice their bodies for a win. We should ask players about the nerve it takes going into corners with guys like Chris Pronger. We should ask players the nerve it took to stand across from Bob Probert when he was angry. According to ESPN, skateboarders, bobsledders, and divers have more nerves. I'm going to wholeheartedly disagree with those assessments because once they have done it once, it's over. Hockey players face a new set of dangers every single night.

Ice hockey was ranked third overall for durability. Boxers were first, and I saw they take one helluva beating and keep on fighting. That's a solid choice for top spot. Football was next, and I'm not sure that 18 games over 18 weeks with practice in between measures up the same way as 82 hockey games per season plus practices. I'm not saying that football players don't take their licks in games, but they have a week to recover between games. Hockey players usually get two nights at best. You do the math.

Hockey was ranked seventh in the hand-eye coordination rankings. Baseball, a few racquet sports, and team handball ranked ahead of hockey, and I'm ok with that. Auto racing somehow snuck in there, and while I'm not saying that drivers don't have good hand-eye coordination, I am suggesting that a sport must actually require athleticism. Otherwise, chess, checkers, competitive video gaming, Scrabble, and tiddlywinks are all sports by the definition. If you don't actually physically participate, I can't allow that to be called a sport. Sorry to the race fanatics out there. It's my blog and my opinion.

Ice hockey ranked first in the analytic aptitude category, tied with soccer and auto racing. This is one I won't argue with in any capacity, and I'm not going to bring down the other sports tied with hockey. Hockey is a fast game that requires players to process an immense amount of information every second they are on the ice. Players make mistakes, and goals get scored. If there is one category I would have fought hard for, the analytic aptitude category would have been it. Well done, panel.

When totaling the scores up, hockey ranked second of the sixty sports and as the top team sport in the rankings. However, I contest that the panel knows very little about sports like rugby, lacrosse, and field hockey to accurately judge those sports, and the fact that they grouped bobsledding and luge together as one shows they failed poorly when arranging these sports.

I will give credit to ESPN, though, in giving hockey its high score. It might be the only time ESPN has ever given hockey its full due.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!