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Enhancing the Fan Experience: Give Us a Variety of Rinks

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This is the second part (of three) in a Samsung sponsored series of posts on how to enhance the fan experience. The first one can be found here.

In the early 1990s through the 2000s, the NHL underwent a massive reconstruction. Virtually all the rinks I grew up seeing on television were replaced with shiny new models, with higher capacity and, more importantly, a full compliment of luxury boxes. The Boston Garden, Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, Chicago Stadium, The Spectrum, and even less heralded rinks like the Great Western Forum (where I saw my first live NHL game back in 1988) and Washington's Capital Center were replaced. The lack of new facilities was a major driving force in the moving of the Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers and Minnesota North Stars to new markets. It's probably the most underrated aspect of the "Gretzky effect" on the NHL: suddenly the NHL could draw enough revenue to make the expensive rinks work.

The arena craze is still going on: the Pittsburgh Penguins replaced Mellon Arena with the Consol Energy Center this season, which was approved for building on threat of the team being sold and relocated. A new rink in Kansas City has been used by NHL owners and prospective owners as a reason to move a struggling team there. The New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers are both looking to build new rinks as well, with tons of arguments going on about the process in those cities.

But the building of new rinks isn't really what I'm talking about here. I'm more concerned about the surface area: the ice itself. When the NHL did this massive overhaul, they took away an aspect of the game that provided it's own excitement. By standardizing the playing surface, the NHL made the rinks themselves less interesting. More comfortable, yes, but less distinguishable. The Boston Garden was famous for its smaller playing surface. This lead to a more physical game, something the Bruins used to their advantage on home ice. Playing in the Boston Garden was hell for a visiting team, and the Bruins designed their teams to make that a reality.

My proposal is simple, and really any league can take their own initiative, they don't (and shouldn't) have to rely on the NHL to do so: any rink size, from the Boston Garden's dimensions to Olympic sized surfaces, are acceptable. If a team wants to build an identity as a rough and tumble team, then smaller dimensions would be alowed. If a team wants to build their team around skating, they can build Olympic size rinks. Having such a building might make it more attractive to host international tournaments, like the World Juniors or World Women's Championships... even an IIHF World Championship. And it'd allow for your team to build a natural home ice advantage over your opponents: rink familiarity should breed success.

Baseball stadiums have allowed for some rather unique outfield configurations (the infield has stayed the same, I'm not advocating change the size of the goal, for example), and it's part of what makes going to games so special for the fans there. Going to rinks around whichever league took this on as an initiative would become more attractive: it'd enhance the hockey tourism experience. Most of all, though, it'd increase the variety of styles that teams would have to play, and the home team advantage would be greater. I think that'd be a huge plus for fans, as it would force teams to be more creative and adaptive. Plus, the home team's fans would leave the games in celebration more often.

Unfortunately, with most teams in relatively new buildings, the opportunity has passed for the NHL to do this. But why not look into it for the future? When cities are building new arenas, why not let the fans decide what kind of ice surface it should be?

Small ice or big ice... why choose? Can't we have both?