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What should fans expect for the return of the NHL on TV?

As you know by now, hockey is officially back!

Celebrate good times! I chose this photo to throw a bone to Red Wings fans, who were among some of the teams not returning to play and who got boned in the lottery draft. Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The NHL is returning and a lot of people, including myself, are wondering what that means for the fans. There will be no fans in the stands for the second time in professional hockey history – the first being due to two games held behind  closed doors because of inclement weather in the hockey hotbed of North Carolina. This means we have a foundation to build on of what to expect.

In those two games, we can see and hear what a hockey game might look like without fans:

If you’ve ever watched your friend or teammate (or dad in my case) play in a local beer league tournament, you’ll know what the atmosphere of a silent arena is like. You can hear each turn, each cut of the skate into the ice, each call for the puck, each crash into the boards.

It brings a unique intimacy to the game. Depending on how well the NHL censors things, we may be able to learn things that are unique to the NHL level. How NHL players communicate with each other on the ice or how a correct stop and turn sounds on the ice (almost like listening for the proper sound of well-struck ball off the centre of a driver in golf).

Just imagine the raw emotion being captured when a team eventually captures the cup.

Imagine this passion of lifting the cup, without it being curtailed by the immediate call for 10 separate interviews.

Unfortunately this is something that sometimes gets lost in the images of fans leaving the arena, mandatory shots of the executives high-fiving each other, and multiple players doing multiple interviews with a plethora of media outlets.

On the other hand, if you are also a soccer fan as I am (or a Korean baseball fan), you may have seen what a professional sport match may look like in 2020 global pandemic times. It’s a bit weird at first seeing seats decorated with advertising, cardboard cutouts (sometimes with not-so-well censored images), sex dolls, stuffed animals, or just plain empty.

Yes, I said sex dolls. Photo: Ryu Young-Suk/Yonhap, via Associated Press

However, it is easy to get used to once you have the sounds of the commenters filling you information as you take in the game. I actually found it quite normal compared to a regular televised match once I started watching. Most of the time you are watching the action of the game, so you don’t notice the differences of empty seats, social distancing of extra players and team officials, and masks on everyone not in the game. With no fans, it could even provide the opportunity to try some new camera angles to get a bit of unique content to hockey fans.

If hockey is smart they could even offer two viewing options to streaming partners. When I watch my favoured Manchester United play on the streaming service DAZN, they offer both the regular commentators version and the “stadium sound” stream, which is exactly the intimate and new feel the I described at the beginning of this article.

Whether there are (socially distant) mascots, or (virtual) 50/50 draws, or any other gimmicky bits of entertainment, I think all fans can agree on one thing. Regardless of how the NHL approaches the games from the broadcast side of things, fans should be in for a treat. After all, five and half months of no hockey (by the time this starts) would make any viewing experience a thrilling experience.

Steve Auld

Steve Auld

My name is Steve and I am from the very noble Auld clan of Niagara, where we respect our elders and follow the golden rules: elbows up, and keep your stick on the ice. When not tearing up beer league or ball hockey, I enjoy the occasional downtime I have with my fiancée and son. Love me some music too, all kinds. If you feel I did a good job or you want to argue, feel free to leave a comment!
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