COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the NHL announced the World Cup of Hockey this weekend, it needed high-profile names present. One of the first calls was to Patrick Kane.
The Chicago Blackhawks forward was front and center when the NHL and its players’ association revealed the return of the international tournament. It was further proof the South Buffalo native has become one of the prime faces of the NHL.
“It’s a great honor,” Kane said in Nationwide Arena. “I thought it was pretty cool to get asked to do something like this. Obviously, you take great pride in representing your country. I thought it was an awesome phone call that I got that I’d be here representing the United States and representing just the hockey game in general.”
The league isn’t shy about putting Kane and the Blackhawks in the spotlight. They will be in an outdoor game for the fourth time next season when they visit the Wild in the University of Minnesota’s football stadium.
“We’ll enjoy them all we can,” Kane said. “I don’t think it gets old at all.”
While some worry about overkill in terms of the Blackhawks and outdoor games in general – there will be three next season, bringing the total to 11 since Jan. 1, 2014 – Commissioner Gary Bettman isn’t one of the naysayers.
“Some teams are more comfortable playing these things than others,” Bettman said. “Some of you think that these games have some dilutive effect. If you’ve been to one, you know that’s not the case. The impact that these games have for the people who actually attend them and the markets in which they take place is nothing short of staggering.
“It doesn’t get old, and frankly our fans and our teams can’t get enough of them.”
The bidding process for the 2018 world junior tournament will begin in March, representatives from USA Hockey said Sunday. The Buffalo Sabres will attempt to bring the event back to town.
USA Hockey picked Buffalo the last time it hosted the world juniors (2011). The Sabres’ case is even stronger this time. Secondary games in 2011 were held at Niagara University, but those can be played across the street from First Niagara Center in HarborCenter in 2018.
Dave Ogrean, the executive director of USA Hockey and a member of the board of directors for the U.S. Olympic Committee, also made it clear that Olympic hockey will be strong with or without the NHL’s participation. Because of the World Cup’s return in 2016 and the location of the 2018 Winter Olympics (South Korea), most assume the league will stop sending players to the Games. No decision is expected for at least two years.
The league’s latest technological advances put the Glow Puck to shame.
The NHL teamed with Sportvision to track the players and pucks during Sunday’s All-Star Game and Saturday’s Skills Competition. Results were positive, and the league hopes to use Sportvision’s technology for all games.
“Our fans are at the center of everything we do with technology,” Bettman said. “While we’re excited about doing this test, we’re not exactly sure where this will all take us. This is, if I can coin a phrase, in the embryonic state of a work in a progress.
“But ultimately we are hoping to deliver the kind of data that will create insights and tell stories that avid and casual hockey fans will enjoy.”
Tracking chips were inserted into players’ jerseys and the puck, and fans were able to see how fast players skated, how far passes went and how far apart players were on the ice. Unlike the Glow Puck from the mid-1990s – which monopolized the television screen and often appeared to be floating through the stands – the tracking graphics were unobtrusive and detailed.
In addition to looking good, the chips will allow the NHL to expand its stats.
Chief Operating Officer John Collins to NHL.com: “We need to create a digital record of what happens on the ice that is uniform across the league, highly accurate and allows fans to go as deep as they want to go but also allows us to tell stories.”