Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine a hockey rink that is roughly the same size as an NHL rink, except that it is stadium-shaped: the boards behind the goal lines are uniformly curved, rather than only curved in the ‘corners’ as in a conventional rink.
Here’s my very rough, amateurish rendering:
How would this rink shape impact the game?
I don’t know the answer to this question of course, but I suspect that it might make hockey faster or safer, or both. Some of the implications of a stadium-shaped rink might include the following:
- because there is more space behind the net, players who skate quickly and aggressively towards the net have more room to slow down before crashing into the boards, and less fear of being tripped up from behind on a breakaway (or tripped by a goalie: check out this play from just yesterday, the opening night of the NHL playoffs)
- goalies might need to become more skilled at playing the puck behind the boards. (The trapezoid era could, thankfully, be over; or at least, this would put a lot more space within the trapezoid)
- it would probably reduce the danger coming from what is perhaps the most dangerous species of hit today, which is when a player is circling around the net and is then hit directly – and sometimes blindsidedly – by an opponent coming around the net from the opposite direction. With more space behind the goalie this type of hit might become less common, and when it does occur it would less often lead to a player being hit head-first into the boards, and less often occur blindsidedly with the player being hit not even having a chance to brace themselves
- because the end boards are curved, head-on crashes into the boards would probably become less common in general
- Skaters would be able to pick up more speed circling around the net, creating more opportunities for scoring attempts or nifty centring passes
- not only would more room to operate behind the goal line be likely to create more offensive opportunities for players who excel at this area of the game – Sidney Crosby comes to mind – it might also lead to more missed centring passes, which would in turn lead to breakaway opportunities for the opposite team
- bouncing a pass off the end boards from one side of the goal line to the other would become much harder with the end boards being curved, but new possibilities for passing the puck off the end boards such that it bounces back in front of the goal line would also be created. Firing the puck around the end boards would also change somewhat: the boards would be longer so the puck would have further to travel, but the boards would also be curved, so the puck might travel more smoothly around them
- In 3 on 3 Overtime hockey in particular, when breakaway opportunities are common, the space behind the goal could make the game faster, safer, and higher-scoring, making OT even more exciting and even less likely to end scoreless and so result in a shootout
Now, obviously the NHL isn’t about to change its rink shape. But it would be interesting to see what would happen if certain youth leagues or international competitions were to experiment with stadium-shaped hockey.
Ice hockey played on a rink the size of a football field already exists. It’s called bandy, and is played in northern Europe and Russia:
It looks very fun, but it is also more like field hockey or football on ice than it is like ice hockey. It has, for example, 10 skaters per side on the ice at a time, it uses a ball rather than a puck, its goalie-nets are field-hockey-sized, and its side-boards and end-boards are only about ankle-high.
So, while it would be cool if bandy were to start being played more in Canada and America, it may also be interesting to think about what a new stadium-sized hockey sport might look like.
Why now? First, because televisions have gotten so good in recent years – and jumbotrons have gotten so big – that the problem of seeing the puck would no longer necessarily be an issue for fans, even considering the difference in size between a hockey puck and a massive rink. (Bandy, by the way, uses a pink ball to increase visibility.) Second, because stadium ice-maintenance has improved significantly in the past decade or so as the NHL has honed its Winter Classic technology.
What then should the rules of stadium-sized hockey be? How many skaters per side? (7? 8?). How big should the goalie-nets be? (I’m going to say bigger than hockey, but smaller than bandy). Should there be offside blue lines? Icing? How often should games be played? (Let’s say once a week, NFL-style). I don’t know…what I do know is that if you put this on TV I will watch. And, better yet, if the ticket prices are stadium-priced, as opposed to arena-priced, I will be there, singing football chants in the cheap seats.
Stadium-Sized and -Shaped Hockey: Speed Skating Hockey
Stadium-shaped speed-skating venues could also play host to stadium-sized hockey rinks. The largest of these venues, in the Netherlands and in China, can seat over 12,000 fans. The largest in North America can seat about 6,000 fans.