Yeah, No– Just Call Them The Wild Blueberries

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The Portland ECHL team, who won’t take the ice until 2018, revealed the five finalists for their Name-the-Team gimmick and the one that has been a runaway favorite is the Wild Blueberries.

No, you heard me right– the Wild Blueberries.

The other four did have connections to the Maine area– the Mariners, Watchmen, Puffins, and Lumberjacks– but they don’t have the pop that Wild Blueberries had when it comes to the Name-the-Team thing.

But this is what is needed for minor league hockey as it follows the minor league baseball scheme of teams changing their name to something extremely odd to garner attention, thus giving the team some new life and, in this case, attention for a team who won’t take the ice until October 2018. Hell, would you rather enjoy the New Orleans Zephyrs at the ball yard or the New Orleans Baby Cakes?? In Jacksonville– would you rather soak in the Suns or binge on the Jumbo Shrimps??

Is it goofy?? Yes.

Will traditionalist be pissed?? When are they not??

But the point is that this is what is needed for a team who is in a market who lost their AHL team a few years back and have dropped to the ECHL. You need to garner the attention in any way possible, especially in the social media age where it could go viral and really give national appeal to the team. It’s not like it’s a thing that’s not connected to the Maine area, so it also makes local sense, as well.

Just look at the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. It was a rabbit as their logo, but people when crazy for it. The brand change connected the team to the city via the old rail line in the city, national media who never really paid attention to the ECHL was taking notice because of the huge change in the name, and it went over well– so why not take the chance and do something original.

For me, it wouldn’t be my first choice– I’d rather the traditional Mariners or even the Lumberjacks; though Puffins are a dark horse in all of this. Yet– if they were called the Wild Blueberries– I’d be fine with it. The name allows for great punny headlines (“Portland gets juiced by Worcester”; “Blueberries ripen to .500 record”) and is something that would give that civic pride to people that is really needed in the minor league game over something that has been used before. Sure, each of these names have that connection– but none will really connect like the Wild Blueberries.

How to Fix the NHL Network With New BAMTech/Disney Venture

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As I sit here and watch the NHL Network’s lack of diversity in their programming, I’m wondering if there’s a way that Disney/ESPN can make the network better.

I wonder this after Disney acquired BAMTech, which holds the digital rights and direction of the NHL Network for the NHL. This, of course, was something that sparked some discussion this past week about ESPN finally being able to show hockey again…sort of. With the Disney purchase, that means that ESPN would be able to stream games through NHL.TV and, I’m sure, ESPN3 will have some kind of hand into this pot.

Let’s be honest– the ESPN streaming idea could be a thing that saves the idea of the NHL Network if they are willing to change up the format, add new life into the network with new show ideas and concepts, and if they get some different voices on there aside from the same rotation of people we see on the network already.

Yes, it’s the NHL Network, but could it hurt for them to expose some other leagues more than just games in the AHL and Major Junior leagues once a week?? Maybe a weekly recap or feature show?? That shows you are letting the hockey fan inside the top prospects that could be coming into the league soon enough.

However, right now– it’s easier to go ahead and show the same garbage Top-20 List every hour on the hour and then NHL Tonight and NHL On the Fly in the other parts of the day. When it’s not any of that, it’s the same specials about the same events over and over again.

It’s something that makes me furious about the NHL Network because the archive they have and the ability they have to show off games from the past is something some people would love to see. To have shows with former players and the stories they can tell in an intimate setting (see the format for WWE’s Table for 3). But the NHL Network and the people running it are lazy when it comes to ideas. Do a copy/paste of what you think people want to see and call it good.

It’s not hard to make the NHL Network successful. There’s plenty of ideas out there to be had to improve upon what they have now, but at the same time– the drive has to be there as well. That latter point is really the thing holding the NHL Network away from being a completely relevant source for hockey fans to go to for entertainment outside of the games themselves.

On the Topic Of NHL18

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NHL18 looks terrible. Not visually– but conceptually…or lack of concept.

I’ll be first to admit that I’m not much of a gamer, but the NHL franchise for EA Sports has really become bland when you pit it against other sports games and what those game bring to the table.

In the latest trailer for the game, EA highlighted their NHL Threes mode– which is NHL Hitz, but with EA Sports powered behind it. They had all the fancy moves they wanted out of an All-Star Skills competition and, wait for it– MASCOTS….yup….Mascots. Their selling point has been reduced to mascots. Oh, and something they stole from MTV’s Rock N’ Jock– the multiplier puck….Dan Cortese should sue.

NHL-Roster-Update18 is just going through with the motions. With no competition for them, why would they want to up the ante outside of the hokey NHL Hitz clone they’re pushing right now. Sure, to have a be-a-player mode where your cliches are judged by the media depending on the inflection in which you say it doesn’t seem all that creative; but it’s much better than what you have going for it right now which– at least check– defensive skill stick and more dekes. Lovely.

When you put the EA’s NHL franchise against something like MLB: The Show or NBA 2K and their amazing franchise mode, it’s hard to say that this is anything more than NHL17, but with new logos and updated rosters. No impressive be-a-player modes where you play it like a roleplaying game, no creative GM or ownership modes. Nothing really worth the MSRP of $59.99 on the pre-order. Hell, at least with NHL17 you could get the AHL and ECHL (which NHL18 doesn’t not have as of time of this post; though, if you find confirmation– lemme know).

The thing is that EA Sports is becoming Upper Deck in that there’s no competition for them, so why bother upping their game. With Upper Deck, they’ve become very bland with their cards, not making them at all unique to what they used to be. Simple border, picture, done. Sure, the sports card market isn’t what it used to be– but it doesn’t mean you stop trying. EA is doing that with their NHL because….well, there’s nothing out there that can compare. Sure, 2K tried their hand– but failed and once EA got the exclusive rights– it was game over for creativity or going that extra mile to give some unique gameplay to a sports game.

The hype surrounding the NHL Threes, as EA would have you believe, makes me wonder if NHL18 shouldn’t just be the NHL Threes platform with a much lower price-point, say $10-15 dollars. That way, you can get the casual player to have some goofy fun time and if they wanted the full NHL game– they could pay the $45-50 on the full game with all the modes.

As it stands right now, they’re not selling me by going the NHL Hitz/Hit the Ice route. Sure, I’m not their target demo, but as a casual fan I wanted some time-killing fun– let me get just the NHL Threes game and the rest can be for the more hardcore fan. Yet, my hope is that some independent designer can make a hockey game that’s somewhat visually appealing and fun to play.

Maybe someone can pick up the pieces of Old Time Hockey and run with it or develop a new Eastside Hockey Manager– but with the juggernaut of EA– I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon.

Trying to Get Your Roll Back On

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In the last installment, I talked about the NHL Street initiative and how, while still active, doesn’t get enough the rub it should. This installment, I’ll talk not only about the NHL involvement in roller hockey, but the lack of another big roller hockey league or spectacle in our sporting lexicon these days. Sure, I tackled this topic seven years ago, but it bears repeating.

I mean, did you know that there was a World Inline Hockey Championship held in Slovakia in June?? Yeah, me either until I looked on the IIHF’s website about it. The game of inline hockey doesn’t have the heat it once did and it’s almost a shame due to a lot of teams being climates where kids really got into the game by roller hockey being the first means of hockey.

The inline boom happened in the ’90s with Rollerblade being the big company to start capitalizing on it and becoming the Kleenex and Hacky Sack of the generation with the brand being referred to as the activity. Dennis Murphy– who created the WHA and ABA– thought it was time to really get inline hockey into the forefront. That’s how he came up with Roller Hockey International.

With the exposure on ESPN, RHI got a decent following, which was helped with the expanded amount of teams in warmer climate areas with kids who played roller hockey in their communities. RHI had teams everywhere from Vancouver to Miami, but there were plenty of ebbs and flows and movement that made the league become extinct by 2000. However, they did have plenty of NHL power with the likes of Brian Trottier, Tiger Williams, Manny Legace, and Peter Skudra having their time in the RHI.

As the RHI winded down, ESPN had saw what roller hockey could do and draw, so they teams up with David McLane and came up with Pro Beach Hockey. As wild and gimmicky as it was, PBH stood out because of it. Using a ball instead of a puck, playing outside, RAMPS BEHIND THE FRIGGIN’ NET— this had it all. While it only lasted three years because ratings weren’t what ESPN wanted, people still have some recollection of it 17 years after it ended.

Also towards the end of the ’90s, the NHL had their NHL Breakout tournament where they would go to NHL cities, put up an inflatable rink on the weekend, then the teams would come, compete, and that’s that. It was much like how the CBC Play On is today, but with inline skates on rather than just on feet.

While there is a league in Major League Roller Hockey that has some kind of “professional” format to inline hockey, the fact remains that the push it once had has been overshadowed just due to interests waning. Roller hockey has even a club hockey following in colleges around the US. You’d think, however, that with outlet like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube having live streaming options; someone would think to stream a game and maybe draw some interest into roller hockey again.

Whether or not the roller hockey craze can come back remains to be seen, but in an off-season like this where nothing drastic has happened since the Expansion Draft– maybe hockey fans needs a roller hockey league or some street hockey events to get into and get interested in for them to make the summer months go faster.

NHL Needs to Take It Back to the Streets

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With it being the dog-days of summer, wouldn’t this be the time for the NHL to revitalize an old thing they really sold hard during the summer in the mid-to-late ’90s?? With everything in the ’90s being hip again, this is the time to bring ’em back to not only kill the summer doldrums, but to maybe put life into hockey off-the-ice.

That’s right, I’m talking about the NHL Street program.

Now, for justification, the NHL still has the NHL Street Program which all 30 teams take part in and the NHL has programs in 50 markets total thanks to the help of the club teams. However, it doesn’t have the peak appeal that it did in the ’90s.

Granted, during that time– Nike had gotten very deep into the hockey landscape. They even created a shoe for it– the Nike Air Street Deke. They had a huge roll-out with Sergei Fedorov as the poster boy for the whole experiment (it’s not like L.A. Gear with Gretzky, but it was a start). I remember seeing these ads in the NHL Faceoff and USA Hockey magazines, though I didn’t really like the idea of Nike coming into hockey. That said, Nike did pump some money and advertisement into the NHL Street idea. Plus, the jerseys they made for the teams were very of the times in the fashion sense.

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With Nike into the game, they also expanded their appeal with the now Nike/NHL Street program. Not only were the sunbelt areas catered to, since street hockey was probably the only kind of hockey most knew with the lack of ice rinks at the time; but urban areas as well. This was covered in the June/July 1995 issue of Vibe Magazine where Nike’s marketing manager just wanted to get hockey sticks into the hands of kids who may not have been able to afford the game prior, just for them to experience the game first hand, which could in-turn mean a lifelong fan of hockey.

Despite not having the big flair it once had, the NHL Street program still goes around school and community centers with the same ideal– getting hockey sticks into the hands of kids who may not have had the chance to experience it. Of course, there are other tournaments in Canada that have brought a big appeal, especially with Hockey Night in Canada having the “Play On” tournament across the Great White North.

So, why hasn’t the NHL decided to bring something like this back?? To have tournaments in all 24 NHL cities would be a nice thing for the club teams to do in the lag during the summer months and have their names out there in the community.  Hell, why not do an entire summer league of street hockey and have the team sponsor it?? Seems simple…so, to steal a line from the old sponsors….Gotta be the shoes….wait, no– just do it.

But that’s just the street hockey leg. There’s still plenty to tell about the roller side of things. Not only the NHL side of things, but the other leagues who did their best and succeeded for a time, but couldn’t maintain past the ’90s boom. More on that next time through.

PODCASTS: FOHS, SB, and ITD

Here’s the weekly dump from me about my podcasts

Face Off Hockey Show: The Jon and Scott show happens where we rambled about people not checking their DMs, the Carolina Hurricanes, and other ramblings.

DOWNLOAD HERE


The Soderstrom Bubble: Jen and I talk about the evolution of hockey equipment through the years. From skates to pads to sticks. We ramble on about it all.

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DOWNLOAD HERE


In The Draft: Wilson and I talk about the big news about Dale Jr.’s replacement in the 88, what it means for the sports, the recap on New Hampshire and Eldora, plus what domino could be the first to fall in Silly Season.

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DOWNLOAD HERE

Is Houston on the NHL Radar Now??

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A story came out last night from KHOU in Houston about the possibility of Houston being in the running for a possible expansion or relocation for the NHL. With Les Alexander looking to selling the Houston Rockets and Toyota Center, it opens up the door to a hockey team moving in there, as Alexander was the biggest opponent to a hockey team being in the Toyota Center.

For this, you have to believe that Houston, if they can find an ownership group, moves almost to the front of the line for an expansion or relocation bid. Of course, this all depends on who buys the Toyota Center and what their look at hockey versus what they would want to deal with the Rockets sharing a building with hockey– but for a market that is the 10th biggest market in the US, the NHL would definitely want to go ahead and get into the ear of the new owner to think about considering the idea for pro hockey to get into the arena.

In KHOU’s story, many closed to the Rockets and Alexander stated that they thought that Alexander believed that any money not spent on the Rockets was money wasted. Hell, he had an inflated rent for the Houston Aeros when they were playing in the Toyota Center to the tune of $23,000 a game (or around $828,000 a year on just the regular season), which was part of why they moved to Des Moines in 2013. Of course, the Aeros were respectable when it came to attendance in the AHL, being in the top-ten in most seasons.

The Houston area does have a lineage when it comes to hockey, as the Aeros were a cornerstone of the WHA from 1972 until 1978 when they folded due to not having the funds for the WHA and weren’t in the running for the migration to the NHL. Then after the Apollos failed in the CHL, the Aeros came into town in 1994 with the IHL and then into the AHL, winning a Turner Cup and a Calder Cup in their 19 seasons in the area.

Instantly, you have to think that the rivalry will already be there between Houston and Dallas. Hell, the folks over at Defending Big D stumped for putting a hockey team in Houston two years ago when the NHL did expansion bids which brought about the Vegas Golden Knights. If the right owner is there and the lease is right– the Houston market could be solid for the NHL. The fans will show up for a pro team because it’s a pro team and the media market is ripe for the picking.

Whether it be a team relocating to the area or the NHL ditching Seattle and get on the Houston bandwagon for expansion, the area should be given a chance to hold up a hockey franchise. They just need the right ownership group to bring and keep the people in the building for the long haul. The NHL should be taking this thing seriously and maybe the pieces will fall into place for Houston to be a new NHL home sooner rather than later.

On the Topic Of Non-NHL Olympic Rostering

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When it comes to Canada and their roster when it comes to the Olympics, they really need to look no further than to their Spengler Cup roster that they’ll send over to Davos at Christmas time. It seems to be the way that Hockey Canada is going when it comes to the exhibition games they’ll have to play beforehand.

Sure, the AHL is allowing their contracted players to be available for the Games, but when you’re a country like Canada who is all about hockey– having a team that has played together (at some point) is what they need for a tournament like this. This would be a bit of a leg-up on the competition, which is not what they had back in the ’80s when most every country had a dedicated national team playing exhibitions in the lead-up to the Games.

Would a team of AHLers be better than a Spengler Cup team?? Perhaps. Could there be some AHLers on the Spengler Cup team that could go to the Olympics?? Absolutely– as AHL players representing Canada in the Spengler is not unheard of in the least. But it’s time to let those guys who moved over to Europe to play hockey and know the bigger ice a little bit better, especially against countries who have players who use that ice surface all year long.

And let’s be honest– it’d be a huge chance for these guys to represent their country on a big stage; not just for Canada, but other countries as well.. Hell, even when it comes to the World Championships, the NHLers get the luster of coming over to play for that while the Canadians, Americans, Finnish players who play in Europe are left out in the cold. You don’t think those guys would be even hungrier to prove they belong at the Olympics and should be considered when representing their nation?? While it’s not the amateur idea that some people have in making the World Juniors as the Olympics every four years; it’s definitely something that has great storylines for the broadcasting companies to have a field day with.

Plus, let’s be honest– this is a one-and-done for the non-NHL players because we all know their coming back for Beijing in 2022. These will be the games to show the depth of each national team has. Sure, we know what they bring to the table on the NHL or even AHL side…but for the overall landscape of hockey, this will prove what they have.

(Of course, I am saying this assume there isn’t a secret schedule to save the NHL going to the Olympics and the NHL players who go rogue and play in the Olympics anyway.)

Doan, Iginla, and Veteran Value

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There is value in veteran players. That goes without saying, However, when you look at what that veteran brings, you have to really think about what they are going after. Are they in it for the betterment of the team or are they doing it to finally fulfill a personal goal?? It’s a fine line and really in the eye of the beholder or what a fan or management deem as a solid reason to bring those kind of players on-board.

Where I’m coming from stems from what the NHL dot com put out this week in Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla still wanting to play, but contemplating retirement knowing their pickings could be slim. Now, these are two players who have contributed a lot in their journeys, especially Doan– who had stuck with the Winnipeg 1.0/Phoenix/Arizona franchise through thick and thin before getting the Kirk Van Houten treatment (and maybe rightfully so). For Iginla, he brought a lot to the table in Calgary, being the heart-and-soul for the Flames franchise when that team was in the dumps. Iginla brought life to the Flames team, culminating in the unforgettable 2004 Stanley Cup playoff run.

Yet, in their advanced age– both at 40– they both want to finally win the Stanley Cup. It’s a noble pursuit that the other 600 players in the NHL have, as well. Yet, it seems the other players know that there is a means to an end. If they are able to play their part in the team scheme, they’d be able to get there as a team. Most team’s managements know that you need to have people in it for the long haul to keep the window open for multiple years.

This is where the disconnect is when it comes to Iginla and Doan. While they may bring leadership, they’re good for maybe one season– if that– before they are moving on as they hear their Cup clock ticking towards the end of their careers. Iginla has at least chased the Cup and had his best chances in Pittsburgh and Boston a few seasons ago. Iginla’s time in Colorado was a stall and wasted some good years of his career. For Doan, he had chances to get out– but for one reason or another; he decided to do the noble thing and stay with the Coyotes…which really got him far with the whole loyalty thing this summer, huh??

Management can’t shake up the chemistry for a one-and-done kind of veteran. Someone like Patrick Marleau signing a three-year deal with Toronto is the kind of deal that helps for the three-year term and gives a very young team trying to find their identity. In a case like Doan and Iginla, they want to go to a place that has an identity, has the chemistry, and they almost want to ride on the coattails of the hard-work that team has created just to get something they feel would complete their NHL resume.

For the short-term, they are not an answer. They will not get the contracts they want and if they want to return to the NHL, they’ll have to take a lesser deal with a lesser team and then hope they perform enough to be a deadline pick-up and maybe get on the bandwagon for a Cup run at the end of the year. The question is whether or not they’re willing to take the lesser deal with the lesser team to maybe….MAYBE…get a sniff at the Cup. At this point in time, I doubt we will have an arena tour for their last ride, but they did leave a lasting impression on a lot of people throughout their career if it is the end.