The NHL's Resurrection

How popularity for the NHL is on the rise.

Archive for March, 2008

The Glowing Puck

Posted by flyingdutchmen on March 31, 2008

In 1997, after hearing complaints from American viewers that hockey is not a good TV sport because the puck is too small to follow, Fox, who was still broadcasting the NHL at the time, experimented with what it called FoxTrax.  This was Fox’s name for what is more generally known as a glowing puck.  At all times during a game, the puck is highlighted no matter where it is on the ice making it extremely traceable.  Not only was the puck highlighted, but whenever a shot was taken, there would be a streaking red tail and a pop-up at the bottom of the TV screen showing the speed of the shot.  It sounds like a great idea, but this innovation failed because of protests from avid hockey fans.  Before diving deeper into the two sides, take a look at this clip for the 1997 All-Star game:

 First, to understand how the whole thing works, you need to know the technology behind it.  Here is a cross-section of a FoxTrax puck:

foxtrax.jpg

 To create the FoxTrax puck, a standard NHL puck was cut in half, and a tiny circuit board with a battery was placed inside. The circuit board contained motion detectors and infrared emitters.  These additional enhancements added less than one-hundredth of a gram to the original puck’s mass. The two halves were sealed with epoxy and the puck could be used for game-play. However, the battery only had a 10 minute lifespan, so at least 50 FoxTrax pucks were produced before each game. The puck was activated when it was struck by a hockey stick.

During a Fox NHL broadcast, the puck emitted infrared pulses to motion sensors located along the boards of the rink. These sensors were synchronized to the pulses. Next, infrared cameras along the rafters detected these pulses and transmitted their coordinates to a television van outside the arena. The truck contained computers that superimposed computer graphics on the puck coordinates, which could be seen by viewers at home. The visual result was a bluish glow around the puck. Unfortunately, blue does not show up very well against the white of the rink. Passes were indicated with the bluish glow plus a comet tail indicating its path. When the puck moved faster than 70 mph, there would be a red tail following the path of the puck. And because this process could potentially be very costly, FOX employees would sometimes go into the stands to retrieve a puck that left the rink, rather than let the fans keep the puck as they normally would during the course of a game.

Now there are a couple arguments for and against the use of this puck.  Newcomers to hockey who only occasionally watched a game really liked the idea of this glowing puck.  It made the game more easy to follow and entertaining with its shot speed statistics.  Viewers who had previously complained about not being able to follow the game were satisfied.  However, FOX made a big mistake of focusing on this small market segment because the majority of the NHL’s rating were based on hockey enthusiasts who hated the glowing puck.  Their argument was the video graphics were a distraction and turned hockey into a video game, particularly targeting the comet-like tail that would trail a hard shot.  Others argued that it should not be difficult to spot a black puck on white ice and that a glowing puck was completely unnecessary.  Most importantly, a lot of the players did not like the way the FoxTrax puck bounced around because of the enhancements.  Not only was this a problem, but these pucks were not available to practice with because it was too expensive for FOX.  Although ratings got a big boost, the combination of all this negative reaction to the FoxTrax puck was overwhelming and eventually led this innovation to become obsolete a year after its introduction. 

Personally, I completely agree with most hockey enthusiasts that the glowing puck is unnecessary for hockey.  It made the game feel artificial and more like a video game.  However, I do feel that this technology could be put to better use for example in goal line controversies.  It is very typical to have a goal disallowed because no cameras or referees saw the puck cross the goal line when there is a crowd around the goalie.  Putting a similar sensor inside the puck and having it provide a notification when the puck crosses the goal line would provide a simple solution. In any and all instances where the referee and replay cameras cannot see the puck when it’s under the goalie’s pads, the goal sensor would provide irrefutable evidence as to whether or not the puck crossed the line. Much like the advanced technology used to show whether a tennis shot is in or out, this technology would actually make life easier for both the on-ice and video replay officials, likely decreasing the length of each review and providing all interested parties with definitive conclusions.

Of course, implementing this technology would be quite costly, but it would actually result in increased profits on a long-term basis. It would eliminate the need for goal judge, and for the fans, it would eliminate the lengthy delays during video reviews, many of which end inconclusively, instead providing clear and definitive evidence each time.

Posted in Gadgets | 4 Comments »

The OvechKam

Posted by flyingdutchmen on March 17, 2008

All of the hype in the NHL has moved from Canadian superstar Sidney Crosby to Russia’s Alexander Ovechkin. 

ovechkin.jpg

He is currently ranked first in the league in points (99), goals (57), points per game, game winning goals (10), and he is the primary candidate to become this year’s MVP.  Not only are his stats amazing, but actually watching the way he plays the game is very intriguing.  I guess I’m not the only one who thinks so because on March 12, 2008, Comcast SportNet’s unveiled its latest innovation, the “OvechKam.”  This is a camera dedicated to following the Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Ovechkin throughout the entire game, providing viewers with an unprecedented look at the most prolific player in the NHL today.  Take a look:

I love it!  Being a huge fan and a player, I like to focus in on the best players and observe how they skate, control, and shoot the puck, and where they position themselves on the ice at all times.  Watching the pros helps me when I play hockey because I incorporate what they do into my playing style.  The OvechKam has made it easy to follow Alexander, who my focus would be naturally geared towards because of his abilities.  Previously, it has been very easy to lose sight of a particular player, especially when he is out of the camera’s view.  But now with Comcast’s new innovation, the job is done for me. 

There are however, many critics of this idea.  The NHL is attempting to individualize the sport on its best player today and many true hockey fans hate this.  If you take a look at the video, you can clearly see that they have focused on Ovechkin in the larger screen and the actual game in the smaller screen.  A lot of people have complained that the OvechKam is not only distracting because you cannot see the game being played but also it was focused on Alexander even when he was sitting on the bench resting.  I actually thought that this was a little ridiculous as well, but then again Comcast had set aside a HD channel showing the same game without the OvechKam so that viewers could flip to the view they preferred. 

Although hockey is a team sport and it should not be focused on one player solely, I really liked this idea.  It is new, fresh, and really trying to get the most out of the league’s All-Star player.  I really liked how I was able to view Alexander’s every move, his reactions, and all of his goals, up close and personal.  But I have to say that I could get tired of this because I like to watch the game of hockey.  If Comcast can consistently guarantee another channel that will show the regular view of the ice than I am all for it. 

It will be interesting to see how this is going to be taken forward.  Here is an idea that I want to throw out.  I would really like to be able to pick which player I want the camera to be focused on.  For example, I play defense and I would like to see how an All-Star defenseman like the Detroit Red Wings’s Nicklas Lidstrom reacts to plays and positions himself on the ice.  Or if I wanted to see some big hits, I could focus the camera on one of the feistier players such as the New York Rangers’s (and former LA Kings player) Sean Avery.  I think the dedicated camera is a great tool that NHL should needs to take advantage of and develop more.  This has the potential to give the league a much needed boost in popularity if they play their cards right.

Posted in New Points of View | 5 Comments »

Watch hockey from a new Point of View.

Posted by flyingdutchmen on March 3, 2008

Have you ever wondered what it must feel like to be a NHL goalie?  …Well now you can experience hockey from the goalie’s point of view, without having to stop 100 MPH slap-shots.  I’d like to introduce to you the GOALIE CAM:

In this clip from December 15, 2004, Marc-Andre Fleury, goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins, tested out the newly created goalie cam.  Though this is not the first goalie cam to be used, it is however the first time that a camera is actually built into the goalie’s mask instead of being mounted on the outside of the helmet.  Safety problems caused the latter to be reinvented.  The new and improved NHL goalie cam was developed by Jeff Silverman, owner of Inertia Unlimited in Jacksonville, Vt.  He used the Sony XC-555 mini camera which was mounted behind a pencil-sized hole drilled below the chin of the goalie mask.  Here is a close-up of Fleury’s custom made helmet:

Fleury Helmet 

                                                 

Helmet Cam

As you can see, the camera takes up minimal space in order to be more comfortable and safe for the goalie.  Jeff Silverman stated that live footage would be captured “with an RS-232 interface on the Sony camera, they [broadcasters] can directly control the video gain, sharpness, and iris level of the fixed-image camera from a laptop with a USB connector by using a small Global Microwave Systems 2 GHz RF transmitter mounted atop the goal.”  This would allow a network such as NBC to easily switch from the traditional camera view point in the upper level of the arena to the goalie’s point of view on the ice.

Fleury has worn the goalie cam more than anyone else in the league, but its popularity with the public will increase the number of NHL goalies who will use it.  Here is better quality clip from NBC’s goalie cam on Philadelphia Flyers’ goalie, Robert Esche:

http://mfile.akamai.com/16532/wmv/nh…am_nbc_700.asx

The NHL is doing all that it can with the available technology to make the game more attractive to viewers.  Since the lockout of the 2004-2005 season, the league is trying to reinvent the coverage of hockey to regain and expand its fan base.  The goalie cam is a great first step because viewers are placed right in the middle of all of the action with the goalie’s point of view.  In my opinion, I think this is a great investment for the NHL because it will attract more fans.  A lot of viewers complain that hockey is not interesting to watch on TV; however the goalie cam takes you inside the glass and on the ice.  I cannot think of any sports that gives you a first person perspective of the game at the professional level. 

Posted in New Points of View | 3 Comments »