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October 13, 2008
A Healthy Glow
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October 13, 2008

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A Healthy Glow

BEFORE THE yellow virtual first-down line and the strike-zone pitch tracker, there was the glowing hockey puck. Introduced in 1996 to help viewers follow the action on NHL telecasts, the FoxTrax system superimposed a blue glow on the puck, adding a neon-red comet tail on shots traveling faster than 65 mph. Though ratings increased, traditionalists lambasted the technology, saying it looked like something out of a video game and was more distraction than help. The glow puck was extinguished after two seasons.

Now it's sneaking back in. During last season's Stanley Cup finals, NBC used a red-halo tracking system to highlight shots on replays only; the network plans to bring it back next postseason. Versus, the NHL's full-season cable partner, will introduce a similar tracking technology on replays (above)—especially to illuminate deflections and tip-ins—beginning with its Oct. 9 Maple Leafs--Red Wings season opener.

There'll be no glow during live action, and pucks won't have computer chips embedded in them as in the 1990s. Those pucks were costly to replace, and some players complained that they handled differently than regular ones. "Fox had the right idea, but the glow puck was embryonic," says Marty Ehrlich, VP of production at Versus. "We're looking to enhance the viewing experience, not disrupt it." Says Rangers captain Chris Drury, "I don't care if it's the corniest thing in the world, if it works and gets our ratings up and sells the game, then I'm all for it."