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Little has changed about the puck since its dimensions were formalized more than 100 years ago. And although beholding a crate of 5,760 identical rubber disks is to understand that a puck is a puck is a puck, some have stood out from their vulcanized brethren. A few have even earned a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, run by the NHL in Toronto, such as the three pucks that were used in the fastest hat trick in NHL history (21 seconds, by Chicago Blackhawk Bill Mosienko on March 23, 1952); the star-crossed disk that stayed in play for an entire game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota North Stars on Nov. 10, 1979; the one carried aboard the space shuttle Challenger by a Canadian astronaut in 1984. There is even a 104-year-old square puck in the International Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ont., used in an 1886 game between Queens University and the Royal Military College, both of Kingston.
For the true connoisseur de la rondelle, Fotopuck (made by Fotoball USA, Inc. in San Diego) and Star Puck (made by Star Puck Inc. in Pickering, Ont.) are perfect for desk or mantel enshrinement. The rival products feature printed color photos of top players like Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. The basic Fotopuck retails for $12; a limited-edition model autographed by the Great One himself is available for $199. Star Puck sells for $8; a special Lanny McDonald Star Puck costs $12.95, with part of the proceeds going to the Special Olympics.
In the AHL, a Maine Mariners fan struck by a stray puck used to be awarded membership in the Loyal Order of the Unducked Puck, which included a commemorative puck embedded in Lucite. But the practice was ended a few years ago after a prospective recipient, who had been knitting at the time she was hit, "took the cotton out of her mouth long enough to tell me what I could do with my consolation prize," says Mariners president Ed Anderson.
Anyone who has ever tasted a moving puck can attest to its solidity. And while all pucks are supposedly created equal, some have proved to be more equal than others. In the minors last season, Plexiglas panels were being broken by pucks in unprecedented numbers. The Maine Mariners had to replace 24 of them, at $200 to $300 per. The Adirondack Red Wings replaced 18 panels, the Cape Breton Oilers 11, and the Flint (Mich.) Spirits 10. The Rochester Americans suffered 18 broken panels. The common denominator turned out to be In Glas Co's pucks, which when sliced open revealed what looked like tiny flecks of metal inside. In Glas Co replaced the suspect pucks, and the problem seemed to clear up.
So how did the metallic flakes get in there? Drolet says only that there was an unspecified problem with the compound, but Don Waddell, then general manager of the now-defunct Spirits, theorizes that the lively pucks may have contained filler from old steel-belted tires.
In 1972 the World Hockey Association tried a painted red puck that would be easier to see on TV and might give the fledgling league a distinctive flair, along the lines of the old ABA red-white-and-blue basketball. Blue, orange and green paints were tried also, but the paint came off under game conditions. Plastic coatings worked well but were too costly. Dyes were tried but faded or caused the puck to warp. The last effort, a dye-job dubbed Superpuck Blue, held color and shape in tests and was introduced at the beginning of the 1972-73 season. But players, goalies in particular, complained that Super Blue got mushy and bounced unpredictably late in the game. The colored puck went nowhere, as did a proposal calling for a puck embedded with an electronic device that would appear on TV screens as a small red arrow.
The NHL doesn't plan to tinker with the basic puck, which suits goaltenders just fine. To them black is beautiful, and the blacker the better. Andr� Blanchette, In Glas Co's plant manager, says some goalies even complain about the white background that the team logos are printed on. As the most active knights in the Order of the Unducked Puck, netminders deserve a voice on the subject. And black—mysterious and serious—seems the appropriate color for that overlooked, undersung object at the center of the world's fastest game. Vive la rondelle!