This post is written by Mr. P.
I’ve been following the sport of ice hockey since the mid 50’s and I am going to toss in my 2 cents on some of the things that have changed over this time. To me, these are very significant and have altered the way the game is played and even scored. I actually like most of the changes because the game has evolved into the fastest game on the planet and the speed and skill of the players has never been higher. Unless you are a dinosaur, it is difficult not to embrace how the game has morphed.
I will start with one change that I totally dislike and that is how a game is resolved and the points accumulated for a win-loss-tie-overtime/shootout loss. “Back in the day,” it was quite simple. Two teams squared off and went at it for 60 minutes. The winner was the team who scored the most goals. Well, it is still the team that scores the most goals that is the winner, but with the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in the mid2000s, ties were now eliminated. It used to be that a win was worth two points in the standings, a tie was worth one point to each team, and a loss was zero points. Very simple idea, easy to calculate and compare one team against another. But somewhere along the way, and perhaps it coincided with the adaption of “political correctness” into our lives, the governing bodies of the sport decided everybody should get a trophy and dropped a tie as an outcome. Now, when 60 minutes have been played and the score is tied, instead of it being over and the guys go home, they play a 5 minute overtime. If a team scores, they win and get two points credited to their points in the standings. But the losing team gets one point for playing overtime! How lovely! And if that wasn’t enough, instead of allowing a game to end as an overtime tie, they now enter in a “shootout” round, where 3 to 5 (depends on the league) skaters are chosen a side and they alternate shots unimpeded breakaway style, on the opposing goalie! They play until one team has more goals than the other after each has taken the same amount of shots. Oh, the winner gets the two points again for winning, AND the losing team gets one point for participating! Kumbaya! I hate it…if this was basketball, why not just take free throws to settle a contest??? Dumb, dumb, dumb!
Now, on to the GOOD stuff….
The players…the players today are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before. There is no comparison that can be made from the guys of my generation to today’s studs. I was considered a big defenseman when I was playing in my 20s at 6’1”, 185. I do not think there are ANY professional hockey players today that play defense at this weight…in other words, the guys are ripped! The art of training for ice hockey includes diet, strength, and endurance that all players do year round. “Back in the day”, when the season was over, most would take the summers off and go fishing and drink beers. They would arrive to training camp to “get in shape”. Today, they arrive “in shape” and ready to go. They are incredible physical specimens. Plus, science has played a huge role in using computers to study the motions of skating, shooting, etc. and they have been able to determine optimal output for each function, making it possible to track one’s progress toward maximizing their inner abilities. And kids today are taller than ever…
The NHL used to be only 6 teams of 20 players on a side. That was 120 jobs! No Americans were playing and when one finally made a team, it was big deal, even a scandal in Canada! The late 60s saw the league expand and by the 70s, there were 14 teams. Today, there are 30 teams which is now 600 jobs. But over this period, the league opened their doors to both American and European players to the point where some teams have more of them than Canadian born players. But what this has done to make the game better is that it has brought new concepts and a higher degree of skill to the game. The Europeans play on an ice surface of 200x100 which is 15’ wider than North America’s 85’ foot wide rinks. The Europeans (Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany among others) developed a style of play that specialized in skating, puck control, and intricate passing plays that contrasted heavily against the North American version of vertical skating and lots of body checking. The resultant mixture has become a beautiful hybrid of fast break plays with lots of hitting. It is harder than ever to make the grade to the NHL level today and the fans of the game truly have benefitted from this.
And lastly, the equipment has enabled today’s amazing players to reach faster speeds, shoot harder, and make goaltending saves like never before. “Back in the day”, goalies did not wear masks. This is what an NHL goalie’s face looked like before masks. He's a beaut.
Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadians became the first goalie to wear a mask in a game in the 1959-60 season and this concept took off almost immediately. Goalies no longer feared death and played “bigger” as a result.
But as with everything else that was used in the 50s and 60s that is still used today, things have improved in the way they are built, the materials used, and the ergonomics of using them enhanced play, not hindered it. Gloves used to be made of leather and got wet and heavy during a game. Today, they are almost like Kevlar and are amazingly light resulting in “faster hands”, which allows players to “dangle” and stickhandle better. The skates also evolved from leather and steel to a lighter blade and almost weightless boot that can be molded and customized to a player’s foot! It would be like switching from ski boots to track shoes in a sprint. Skates used to get water logged during play and by the end of the game, one felt like he was wearing cement shoes.
And the sticks went from the heavy wooden version with straight blades to today’s composite sticks with curved blades that allow players to literally “launch” shots in a manner similar to how a pole vaulter uses the flex of his pole to launch himself over the bar. By learning how to strike the puck and snap it forward properly, today’s shooters literally sling shot the pucks on goal where an awaiting goalie is secure in state of the art padding that almost makes it impossible to score since the gear is so large and light.
I could go on and on but I’m afraid I’ve lost most of you already…suffice to say, the sport has improved from all of the changes and I have no doubt that in the next 30 years will be even greater!