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An ice choice

NHL teams would benefit from customized rinks

Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2006 1:51PM; Updated: Friday February 24, 2006 11:28AM
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The Turin tournament has made a convincing case that bigger Olympic rinks are conducive to speed and physical play.
The Turin tournament has made a convincing case that bigger Olympic rinks are conducive to speed and physical play.
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One thing that's been readily apparent during the Olympic tournament is that the wide ice is no longer a chastity belt on physical hockey. There's been plenty of clean, solid body contact -- even if the European refs haven't always recognized it as such. In fact, there's been enough to convince even the old-timers who think big ice would turn the NHL into an overdressed version of the Ice Capades that it's no longer incompatible with our style of play.

Of course, even with this compelling display of entertaining hockey, there's no way the NHL would ever consider adopting the international standard, right? Can you imagine the Flyers battling the Bruins on the big sheet? Eddie Shore is rolling over in his grave at the thought.

But what about the Habs, or maybe the Oilers? When you consider a team that's had a history of speed, the thought of the damage that burners like Yvan Cournoyer or Paul Coffey could have inflicted with all that room to rev it up is pretty intoxicating.

Obviously, the big sheet's not for everybody. But what if, instead of adopting the Olympic ice, the NHL simply deregulated the size of the surface from the current 85 by 200 to whatever suits the desires of an individual team?

Maybe my natural aversion to conformity is talking here, but the advantages seem pretty apparent. Primary among those would be the re-introduction of the home ice advantage.

It's obvious that with all the new arenas that have been erected during the past decade, there's no such thing as a true home ice advantage anymore. One building is distinguishable from the next only by the kiosks in the food court and whether the fans are wearing parkas or flip-flops in February.

You could drop the Blue Jackets into the American Airlines Center in Dallas or Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, and it would have no impact on their game -- or their opponent's.

Seems to me that's not a good thing.

So why not take the baseball approach and allow franchises to tailor their home facilities as they see fit? Wouldn't it be nice to bring back a little of the personality that was lost with the closing of the last generation of buildings?

That doesn't mean we'd see a second Green Monster in Boston or something as crazy as that center-field ramp or flagpole in Houston. Our sport doesn't allow for anything that idiosyncratic. But teams could personalize their rinks in a way that would allow them to mold their personnel choices to fit a certain profile.

If you want to build a team around speed and finesse, adjust your ice to the international standard. Want to play a bone rattling, take-no-prisoners style? Re-create the cramped confines of the old Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo and leave the engines running on the ambulances parked outside.

A pipe dream? Sure. I realize that most owners would take a pass if given the option (other than Jeremy Jacobs and Bill Wirtz, who'd be slavering at the thought of the extra high-dollar seats they could cram in if they shrunk their rinks). But a few surely would recognize the potential impact that the ability to force visiting teams to adjust to your style of play for 41 games would have on the standings. Not to mention how unwelcoming your barn might be come playoff time for an opponent who doesn't match up well.

A few surely would recognize the marketing potential that would come with creating a unique identity. And the increased ticket sales that would come with the additional wins at the friendly confines wouldn't hurt either.

NHL teams always are looking for some kind of advantage. Why not start at home?