If you poke your cute little head out into the big wide world of SBN Hockey today, you'll notice posts upon posts about the fan experience concerning a hockey game. And as you may have guessed from the backdrop on the site, Samsung is involved and sponsoring these posts. There will be a chance for you to win some swag in the coming weeks which we'll be sure to keep you updated on, but for the time being, make your way around SBN and check out what everyone has written.
Being directly tapped into the Sharks fanbase here at Fear The Fin, we receive a lot of comments and e-mails about what fans enjoy about watching the game of hockey. Wins always come first for the obvious reasons, but after that you get into a range of tertiary concerns that ran the gamut from watching the team skate hard every night to the sounds of the building as you make your way up the HP Pavilion entrance steps. There's so much that goes into being a hockey fan, so much that defines your passion, that boiling down one ultimate experience to trump them all probably is improbable.
But everybody loves a rink rat.
The rink rat is a fan favorite, a guy fans can identify with on a multitude of levels. It could be because he exemplifies all of the societal and cultural values we have been raised to respect-- hard work, nose to the grindstone, giving it your all every time you hit the ice. It's blue collar work ethic at it's finest, and for the majority of hockey fans around North America, that is something that is very appealing on a basic level. A Silicon Valley employee is accustomed to working sixty hour weeks during entry-level jobs and beyond, and the same goes for a lot of markets across the country. We can identify with a guy who didn't get handed his talent on a silver platter, a guy who had to work his tail off from midgets to juniors to minors to the big show in the NHL, even if his pay scale is higher than the majority of us will see on an annual basis.
The rink rat is also a guy who generally isn't blessed with the best of looks. Take Mike Ricci for example-- a legend in San Jose for his commitment to the game, and probably even more so because of his ratty hair, busted nose, and missing teeth. We can't see the scars and bruises populating his body because of his jersey and pads cover them during, but his face tells the story of a man who was a pure team player. He'll block a shot with his face, lose a tooth or two, and not miss a single shift because that's what got him here. And that is what is going to keep him here.
Finally, the rink rat is a guy who entertains us. He'll go out and take a run at the best defenseman on the opposing team to get under their skin. He'll forecheck hard to generate a turnover, he'll backcheck from the end line to break up a scoring opportunity, and he'll mix it up after the whistle and chirp on the bench. His role is to provide energy for the building and his teammates, and ensure that no one takes liberties with any of the younger or more-skilled players on the team.
We love the rink rat. And now is the time we should celebrate him.
On a micro level, the easiest way to celebrate the rink rat would be to put a camera on him for every shift. The NHL has experimented with this in the past for their better known players, but never before with a guy likeof the or of the . For a player such as Alexander Ovechkin, a magician with the puck, each shift is exciting in that there is always a potential for him to score a highlight reel goal. But that's why committing a camera to him for each shift doesn't necessarily work-- you're going to see the highlight goal anyways because there's never a shortage of cameras covering the puck. It's nothing different than what you get every gameday. Every good goal scorer knows when to pick his spots on the ice, and the majority of those shifts are spent trying to find open seams off the puck. The same goes for a guy like or any other premier goal scorer in the NHL. Their job isn't to play defense, or throw their body around viciously on the forecheck-- it's to find a spot in the offensive zone and let the puck rip when they get their hands on it.
We've seen the goals, and we'll continue to see the goals. They're the sex that sells in the NHL. But what we don't see every shift is the little intricacies that Nichol provides, the foreplay that makes the whole spectacle possible. It's a beautiful thing in motion, and something that is lost in the transition from the live experience (where you decide which players/event to focus on) to the broadcast experience (where the production crew decides which players/events to focus on).
This micro-video would be available online following the game-- a ten minute clip of every single one of Scott Nichol's shifts, interspersed with his actions on the bench and participation in post-whistle scrums.
But perhaps the most interesting place to take this idea of the "rink rat" camera would be on a macro-level. By far the most exciting of the two options. In this situation you follow around any number of players in the NHL who possess the traits we outlined above (grit, heart, hard work, fan favorite) for an entire season, chronicling their day to day behaviors and thoughts on their role with the team. Coaches are interviewed and talk about the players role on the team, how their heart and energy make the locker room hum. Teammates are interviewed about how a guy like Scott Nichol gets the team over the top. General Managers offer their thoughts on how important these types of guys are, and what they look for when assembling a fourth line. The "rink rats" sit down with the crew and discuss blocking shots, taking a butt end to mouth, the pain they play through every night.
You have historical information-- how many teeth they have lost, the worst injury they endured, the players they begrudgingly respect because they compete against them every night. How it feels to finally score a goal, and how it feels to know that they'll always be fighting like dogs over a bone for the next paycheck, how to toe the line and make sure not to cross it.
The players would be mic'd up during the game, their verbal barbs uncensored. It would be a window into a small subset of the NHL population, guys who generally receive one-year deals and endure the most physical punishment on the team. The shot blockers. The penalty killers. The faceoff specialists. The undersized. The energy players. The guys who have to constantly prove themselves.
The guys we love to call fan favorites.
A documentary to blow all hockey documentaries out of the water. Similar to "Pond Hockey" in the fact that it celebrates the roots purity of the sport, but different in that instead of focusing on amatuer players you have the antagonists of the NHL as the film's protagonists. Similar to "A Day In The Life" on NHL Network except that instead of focusing on the overall experience of an NHL player and what they eat for breakfast, the focus is on the rigors of the sport and fighting to get a consistent shift.
It would be a celebration of hockey at it's most raw and visceral form. A celebration of the game we love.
A celebration of the players we love to call our own.
The fan favorites.