April 08, 2020

Howe recalls era of `old’ NHL heroes

The limos were lined up outside G.M. Place in Vancouver Saturday night after the NHL heroes game and skills competition, part of the all-star weekend. Those long, black pieces of metal would carry the millionaires of the NHL teams to receptions and parties.

There were also buses. They would carry the media, NHL personal and corporate and team officials to those same receptions. Onto one of those buses walked Gordie Howe, “Mr. Hockey.” Howe played 26 NHL seasons, ranking second in almost every offensive category behind Wayne Gretzky. A member of the Hall of Fame, Howe is the connection to the original six teams and today’s ever-expanding NHL.

It says something of the changing nature of the sports when this icon casually and naturally walks on the bus as today’s stars leave with their drivers. It’s not an issue of good or bad, just change. Howe brings a perspective to today’s stars they might otherwise never consider. Howe leaves a humility, a sense of being human, in his wake. Today’s heroes will forever speak of him in the most respectful tones. Their stories will convey, to a future generation that will never know Howe, the dignity that can transcend a game, a job, a life.

If for no other reason, that legacy will forever place Howe in the most revered column of “heroes.” His presence year in and year out at the NHL All-Star Weekend continues to be a vital bridge in the growth of the league.

As to the all-star game Sunday, no surprises. Anyone who thought there would be more physical play with the new format of North American players against the World All-Stars was disappointed. The players’ No. 1 rule for this game is, “don’t get hurt.” With their first obligation being to their own NHL teams and with an injury costing so much in future earnings, the players cannot be blamed for backing away from open-ice hits and crashes against the boards.

Instead, the fans have come to expect a wide-open passing game with high scores. The speed and skill levels can somewhat compensate for the lack of physical play. In any event, that’s the way the all-star game is going to be.

The game is a marketing tool, anyway. Constant fireworks, loud music, ads on the giant screen and sponsorship events between periods overshadowed the game if you were in the arena. That is true for all the major all-star games now. They are tools to sell the sports and the game itself is secondary.

There is a danger here. More and more all the bells and whistles and fireworks and deafening music is becoming an every-event occurence for every sport. That effort to stimulate excitement every second of every game when the puck’s not moving or the ball is not being thrown has the effect of making the game boring.

Marketing folks want to create this never-ending stimuli so every game becomes an event that includes all the surrounding noise. They hope that keeps folks entertained and feeling part of something special. That feeling they believe, also creates free spending atmosphere. More action, more dollars spent.

The danger is that people tire of this particular entertainment package because they forget the game and can move on to noise and stimuli elsewhere. Marketing, as evidenced at all-star games, can create a real show, but the major sports will do well to remember that there had better always be a solid core of those who come for the games first. If they are left out of the marketing ephasis, all that will be left are loud sounds and empty seats.

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