Hockey season shouldn’t start until November
It’s too early.
Yes, someone has to speak out at some point: It’s too early for hockey.
Sure, for the extreme puckheads this is blasphemous. It’s borderline criminal talk, worthy of a sentence of six months in the penalty box.
But didn’t it seem strange to see the Boston Bruins playing back-to-back nights this past week and also playing this weekend?
Even worse, didn’t it seem strange to see UMass Lowell open up its season the other night at the Tsongas Center against Boston College? Or for the University of New Hampshire to open up at defending national champion Union College in that hockey hotbed of Schenectady, N.Y on Saturday? Or to be at Michigan next Friday? Or for the Manchester Monarchs to bus of to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in relative quiet to start their season on Sunday afternoon?
Yikes. Hockey has become almost a year-round thing. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes that’s bad. We’re thinking football now. The New England Patriots are dominating the conversation. The American and National League Championship Series are underway.
When the Major League Baseball season opens, it seems like just the right time; it’s the start of spring, warmer times are ahead. When football begins, everybody is ready for it because it’s a fall tradition, plus it’s so popular the fans are champing at the bit, especially with the fantasy and gambling aspects.
Basketball? Well the NBA starts nearly a month after the NHL, so that works.
But, even though there’s been chill in the air the last few days, hockey seems to sneak up on us. As UMass Lowell Athletic Director Dana Skinner said the other day in an interview on ESPN New Hampshire radio, college ice hockey takes up pretty much the entire academic year. Workouts start in September, pretty much right after classes begin, and the Frozen Four occurs in mid-April.
Colleges had begun recently to look at reducing schedules in some sports, Skinner said, but hockey was completely left out of that process. The reason is, he said, was that schools were afraid of losing players to junior hockey.
Sound familiar? Even colleges are afraid of the big bad junior hockey establishment, which sells its players on high-caliber competition and pretty much year-round hockey as the fastest way to the pros. We already know high schools are losing players to the lower levels of the junior circuit left and right. But it’s shocking to think the colleges are so afraid to cut even a month off their season.
The Bruins have started their season and everyone has been looking at the traded Johnny Boychuk as if he were the second-coming of Bobby Orr. So that has given some spice to the start, but any analysis now, as bad as the B’s looked Saturday night against the Capitals, is so premature.
It’s a long NHL season, which is why it’s so painful when teams go through the October through April gauntlet and then get eliminated in the first round.
The Bruins, if they can get enough scoring from their top line, will probably win their division, but even if they don’t, they should finish in the top three or four in the Eastern Conference.
The loss of forward Jerome Iginla is probably tougher to handle than Boychuk, at least when it comes to the regular season.
But here’s my solution to the season’s length: Start hockey in November, both in the pros and in college. Let the preseason go through October. The players will be in better shape, the quality of play will be better and the injury risk will be lessened.
Of course, that would mean fewer games, fewer dollars, and hockey extremists would see that as an insult. But wouldn’t that make the hard core fans even more excited, knowing the wait would be worth it?
At least the NHL, after 15 games were played on Saturday, had only two on the docket on Sunday. That’s because the NFL takes a back seat to no one.
Don’t drop the puck, stop the puck and hold onto it until November.
Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow King on Twitter (@Telegraph_TomK).