Thursday, November 03, 2005

NHL Brand-Doctoring and Real Hockey: A Consumer Follow-Up

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.


Trent Reimer said...

Admit it: the real thing holding you back is that you just know you're going down! Or was it the other way around? Yeah, sigh, it was.

The free standing arcade style versions look pretty tough. But are they three decades tough?

Whisky Prajer said...

They're pretty tough on the pocket book, is what they are. Actually, last Christmas Costco was carrying an NHL endorsed stand-up table with rubber grips you could barely get your mitts around. $200, if I remember rightly. I took hold of a defence-man's controls, tested the action and ... broken!! Couldn't twist in either direction! Seems to me Costco didn't sell too many of those games...

Cowtown Pattie said...

I loved that game! Always got blasted by my brother and cousin, but we spent hours...

DarkoV said...

This post brought back some excellent memories. Back in the days when Blood Borne Pathogens sounded like the title of the B-movie matched with the first run picture on Saturday afternoon twofer movie day rather than something you nowadays connect with the snap of latex gloves and teammates fleeing from your bleeding presences, we played this game with a box of Band-Aids at the ready and a economy sized glass (what happened to glass?) bottle of mercurochrome. Great product that. How better to treat one’s finger gushing with crimson blood than with a liquid that was neon crimson? And the name, “mercur” as in “mercury” and “chrome” as in “chrome fender”. Poisonous elements to stem the tide of one’s bodily fluids? That sounded logical to me.
But I digress.
We lived in New Jersey.
We were fanatics.
We were Catholic grammar school boys.
A 3 headed monster. So, what did that mean?
We cheated.
Each guy had his own team. I lucked out and got the Canadiennes. The Habs. Tehe best uniforms, the best names. The Red Wings in their Reds looked like lackluster devils. The Maple Leafs? Come on. Who names their ferocious team after twig droppings? The Rangers? Another poofta name; like Boy Scouts except without the Nazi youth baggage. No, the Habs were the best back then. We’d take our 7 players (remember you had one substitute if a “player” got mangled) home and “prep” them. Solder an extension to the right wing’s stick. Put a curve on the centerman’s stick. Cut off a popsicle stick and glue it to the defenseman’s stick, for added strength since you knew your opponents were altering their wings and center as well.

A table hockey unit would last maybe a year and a half. The poles would be bent. The knobs would have been replaced long ago with globs of electrical tape. We’d put mercurochrome (hey, it’s metal, right) on the players, for that added touch. We thought of wearing safety glasses as the pucks would be launched fast and furious from each side of the rink, but that idea remained a thought. Our players didn’t have helmets back then, why should we have any head protective gear? The games were all at a friend’s house, since he had the biggest garage. Detritus of older hockey games gathered dust in a corner. The sound of metal rods ramming back and forth along with mild cursing filled the cold room. Life was simple. Pain was physical and easily swathed in mercurochrome and bandages back then. I’m not clear on the details, but we moved away from the clarity of the company of boys and found ourselves soon after in the company of women, where pain was not physical, where gallons of mercurochrome would not have dulled our pain, and where no bandage was large enough to cover our wounds.

Whisky Prajer said...

In my university days, the student pub had a stand-up table with a plastic dome. For a quarter we could play for 10 minutes. Seems to me the lads and I would ease our various stages of heartbreak by plugging quarters into the slot and playing "hockey". Certainly, it was more therapeutic than video games, and not nearly so hard on the brain cells as drowning our sorrows (not that the condition of our brain cells ever served as a deterrent to said activity...)