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Hockey Needs More Outdoor Games

Outdoor hockey is on the minds of many this weekend.

On Friday the World Juniors hockey tournament will showcase Canada vs USA at New Era Field, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

And on New Year's Day next Monday the National Hockey League celebrates the 10th anniversary of the popular Winter Classic at CitiField in New York as the New York Rangers faceoff against the Buffalo Sabres at the home of MLB's New York Mets.

It's supposed to be around minus 6 (Celsius) by estimated puck drop times in both cities. Today I sit in my office far up in remote northern British Columbia, where the temperature is minus 24. I dream of going to one of these marquee hockey events - not for the hockey but just to warm up.

People love to romanticize the outdoor game of our youth. Maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon nowadays, but minus 24 was always cold. The kids can have it.

Not that I think kids play a lot outdoors anymore. It's tough to find a nearby frozen slough in the urban centres most people live in nowadays. If they get to play informal games of shinny it's probably not for more than a few times a season.

Back in hockey's golden age most of the NHL players came from rough places like the prairies or northern Ontario. Minus 24 was nothing to kids like Gordie Howe.

It was a great way for kids to learn the game. Not taught the game. There is a huge difference. Kids learned creativity because they had to. There was no structure. Just pure bliss.

Somehow hockey at the NHL level has never been better. Yet we see fewer and fewer truly creative players. Even the greatest players are cookie cutters of themselves. They are masterful and impressive nonetheless, but not artists.

Hockey needs more outdoor games. And I don't mean Winter Classics or Stadium series.


Anonymous said…
I once played an outdoor game, early '70's, in Aurora Minnesota. It was an early morning game and the low temperature that morning was -40 F. Yes it was extremely cold, most parents sat in their running cars, but I remember only one game from my youth more than that one, when we beat a team from Manitoba and won a tournament in Superior Wisconsin.
We had many practices outdoors in those days, and a few games, not to mention backyard and street hockey. While I agree unstructured play breeds creativity, I think if the emphasis would be put on fundamentals rather than on winning, some of that creativity would come back. The reason being is when the most important thing taught is not to make mistakes, naturally the young will put their focus on not doing anything 'wrong.'

Nice post.

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