Last year, in the peace and quiet of the NHL lockout, I happily dissed the league, inferring its imminent demise. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to watch the "new" game, and find myself ... well, more or less pleased with the changes made.
Just listening to the sports highlights on the radio can be a thrill. Take last night's scores: the Ottawa Senators thumped the Buffalo Sabres 10-4. Ten to four! The score climbed into the double-digits! I won't bother googling stats to prove myself wrong, but the last time I remember that kind of score was the 1970s. High scores are a good thing. For the past twenty years, and particularly the last seven, the score rarely broke five, and usually peaked at three. We're talking about the ascension (if you want to call it that) of dump-and-chase, clutch-and-grab hockey, which can be translated to a single Canadian letter: Zzzzzzzz. Now, it's almost a gaurantee each team will pocket at least one goal per period, giving the build-up of audience tension the necessary explosive release to keep them watching to the last minute. At this rate, even the Leafs might be able to turn in an entertaining game.
That's not to say I completely advocate all the changes. I think (heaven forfend) Don Cherry has a point when he complains about the current "firing line" that's been established by the blue line: allowing a sharp-shooter forward to sit at the point and fire slapshot after slapshot without getting knocked off his skates does not make for attractive hockey. Still and all, it's nice to see a game that more closely resembles what you see in Europe.
But the hockey game I'm currently most taken with resides not in the arena (or the GameCube) but on the kitchen table. Yep: tabletop hockey. The model you see here is precisely the same as the one I played when I was a kid. It belonged to my father, so I'm guessing its vintage is mid-1950s (I cadged the photo from here). The players are tin, the teams are The Original Six. The pictured model is in near immaculate condition (note the glossy "ice" surface) - not at all the condition our game was in when we finally sold it in a yard sale. Still, it amazes me to consider just how well this model endured the ravages of time. Two generations of players, and boys at that.
The "ice" was constructed of a sort of fibre-board that almost resembled cardboard. Resilient stuff, that. Whenever our centre player managed to monopolize the puck, we would carefully line up the shot, then ram it home with near deadly force. It wasn't uncommon to have to reach for the band-aids after a game: we frequently tore open the skin on our fingertips in our frenzied working of the metal rods. I'm not sure if they were ever "capped", either. I only remember the electrical tape that was wrapped around the ends. When we finally sold the game, it had developed some serious flaws (the fibre board was finally all but shredded) and couldn't be played. Still, that game was good for nearly 30 years of play.
Now that my daughters are at an age where they don't mind proving their superiority over the old man, I'm looking out for something similar. Just browsing around the web, it looks like Stiga has claimed table-top dominion (I'd be grateful for any recommendations on this!). I somehow doubt the current models could endure 10 years of abuse, never mind thrice that, but I'll take what I can get and be happy for that. Because as fun as video hockey can be, the physical thrill of table hockey beats button-mashing (bloodied) hands down.