Thursday, September 22, 2005

Back to the Rink

It was strange and surreal.
It was uncomfortable, but fun.
It was the return of hockey last night at Savvis Center.

I've been doing the Blues public address announcing since 1987. And last night's first pre-season game against Nashville was one of the more unusual nights of all of the 900 or so games that I've been around.

It was the new game, and the old game.
It was new people, and it was the usual people.

I had to work hard at remembering the policies and procedures that govern my job and the presentation at Savvis. Nothing was fresh in my mind, and nothing was easy. In a lot of ways it seemed like my first night on the job back in '87 except I was re-learning most things while learning some new things. After all, it's been a year-and-a-half since anyone was involved with an NHL game at Savvis. Many of the same people were around to run the show...but at the same time there were enough new and different people involved...and a few of the old guard make for a "first day of school" type feeling.

The hockey itself? I think it will take some getting used to. When all is said and done, I think most people will enjoy the changes made to the game. Especially the shootout that ensures that no game will end in a tie. A lot of the hockey purists are dead-set against this addition to the game. And, I understand why. It's like the soccer shootout. You play a team game for a couple of hours...then the outcome is decided by a series of man-to-man challenges. Not perfect by any means. But, professional sports is a form of entertainment. And there's certainly not been enough entertainment value in hockey over the past several seasons.

When I announced, after the regulation game was over, that there would be a shootout to demonstrate to the fans how it would work during the regular season, many of the fans who were headed for the exits returned to their seats. As a demo, last night's shootout was perfect. The score of the shootout was tied after the first three shooters from each team took their shots. Then it goes to a "sudden death" shootout. Each team sends out another shooter. The first time one team scores, and the other doesn't, the game is over. Nashville missed their first shot, the Blues didn't. So, it was a great practice run.

The Blues have sold just over 10-thousand season tickets. That's down from around 14-thousand. I'm thinking, before next season rolls around, that the new rules, and the excitement that they bring to the game, will bring enough fans back to hockey to replace the missing season ticket holders, and then some.

It was weird.
But it was wonderful to be back at the rink.

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