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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Turfing Strombo from Rogers Hockey

This post, published on Eyes on the prize here, assesses what went wrong with the short-lived George Stroumboulopoulos era on Rogers' revamped Hockey Night in Canada. While many of the pundits have insisted that Strombo was too edgy and unconventional for older hockey viewers to relate to, I argue here that the producers at Rogers did not allow Strombo to be nearly avant-garde enough. Below I explain the particular reasons Strombo, and the way he was used by the new Hockey Night in Canada, failed to grab the attention of the very millennial hockey fans they were apparently trying to capture with his appointment to the position in the first place. 

Was Strombo Too Edgy or Not Nearly Edgy Enough?

With none of their teams having been in the playoffs, and with the NHL Draft still several days away, Canadian hockey fans had been so shut-out of their sport that the timing was perfect for some national sports-media drama.

So, cue the opening rumours, and now official news, that George Stroumboulopoulos will be replaced by Ron MacLean as host of Rogers' national hockey TV broadcast next season.

As the observers started to weigh-in, pretty much all of the expected assessments were advanced.
  • Strombo is a news and culture guy, so he really wasn't knowledgeable enough to be talking hockey all the time.
  • Strombo is too hip, and older audiences simply couldn't relate to his skinny suits and earrings.
  • Strombo is an outsider to the hockey community, and so he never could have been a credible replacement for the consummate insider and widely popular Ron MacLean.
In addition to the predictable rationalizations, some more nuanced responses to Strombo's dismissal surfaced as well.
  • Strombo shouldn't be viewed as the main cause of Rogers' declining ratings and revenue, but Rogers' poor ratings and revenue - coinciding with the recent weakness of the Canadian teams - must be seen as the cause of the telecom's unexpectedly dire need to cut the cost of Strombo's salary.
  • The problems with Rogers' broadcasts have had much more to do with larger issues plaguing the game of hockey than with the show's host, and no replacement for Strombo will be able to do a damn thing about that.
  • Strombo was brought in to fix a problem that really didn't exist.
  • Maybe Strombo's just not as talented as we all thought he was.
As news about additional significant cuts to Rogers hockey continues to leak out, how can we make sense of the termination of the Strombo experiment? Did Strombo fail in his adventure in hockey TV? Is Rogers making the right move by jettisoning Strombo and bringing back the familiar Ron MacLean? 

I say firing Strombo at this point is more than disappointing, but maybe not for the predominant reasons that are currently being bandied about.
Though regular hockey fans are expressing mixed feelings, and some pretty heavy-hitters have come out strongly against Rogers' decision to let him go, I must admit that I was among those who were a little skeptical when it was first announced that Strombo would take over hosting duties of the national hockey TV broadcast in Canada. 

It wasn't that I didn't believe in Strombo's ability to do the job, and it certainly had nothing to do with his fashion. What worried me then were comments that Strombo made indicating that he planned to approach his new job more as a fan than as a journalist. 

Coming at a time when many were craving an upgrade to the overall quality of Hockey Night in Canada, the notion that hockey reporting relied more on fan fun than on journalistic acumen bothered me. Even with these reservations, I was ready to give Strombo a chance, and excited to see how he'd do.

Now, two years later, if I had to give my own personal view of Strombo as host, I'd have to say that I think he did ok.

I was never bothered by Strombo's appearance - in fact, I was quite alright with the contemporary look he brought to hockey television. I also neither missed Ron MacLean nor ever felt that Strombo was out of his league dealing with the weekly affairs of the hockey world. Sure, I'd find it a little off-putting to watch Strombo welcome TV viewers to a Saturday night hockey broadcast only to see him promote his CBC radio music show in a timed Tweet just a few moments later, but, hey, these are the times in which we live.    

Though I ultimately tend to believe that he handled his duties as a competent professional, I also had some problems with Strombo on Canada's national hockey broadcast. My concerns had less to do with what Strombo actually did, and much more to do with what he, and his broadcast team, failed to do with the potentials I believe they collectively held.

When Rogers gave Strombo the lead role on its re-jigged Hockey Night in Canada, most of the hockey people I knew were elated. Yes, my hockey people - many of whom are at least ten years younger than I am - really liked that, in his outward appearance and demeanour, Strombo literally embodied the zeitgeist of their generation. But, to conclude that the only thing these people were counting on was having the chance to watch a host who looked more like they did than like the greying on-air talent who've monopolized traditional Canadian hockey media really sells the very viewers Rogers hoped to attract much too short. 

What I mean is that, more than the fact that the new host was youthfully on fleek, and beyond the technological innovations that were intended to appeal to a young generation of digital-natives that consumes sports in radically different ways than traditional - older! - TV watchers, Strombo's appointment carried additional millennial-appropriate expectations about the kind of content that was needed for his target demographic to buy in. 

I feel this way because, contrary to the lazy stereotypes that likely informed Rogers hockey producers, the millennial hockey fans that were supposed to flock to Strombo aren't selfishly focused on themselves, aren't devoid of attention spans, and aren't clueless about what's going on in their communities. In fact, and fed by their interactive digital lives, millennials are independent thinkers, motivated to seek meaning in life, and hungry for social involvement

The point is that, rather than condescending to millennial viewers by serving up a host whose primary generation-specialized niche role was to reflect their taste in external style, Rogers needed to harness Strombo to deliver content that engaged the substance contained internally within young hockey fans' minds and hearts.

Looking back for just a moment, how did the Rogers and Strombo actually do on this score?

Well, while younger hockey TV viewers very likely would have used their digital spaces to participate in media-facilitated reckoning with big picture issues such as whether the NHL might have played a role in preventing its players from ensuring their on-ice safety while working to promote a risky physical game, Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada didn't touch it.

And, though millennial hockey fans constantly convene on social media to hold vibrant discussions about whether sports leagues like the NHL do the right things, or don't even think about doing anything, to help address persistent abusive attitudes and behaviours of some of their players, Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada turned a blind eye - both to the issues as well as to the digital networks of young fans that could've been engaged.

Finally, many of today's young female and male fans speak up to say that they want changes to the ongoing reality of nearly all-male sports media, but with the exception of The Intermission Social Media Reporter, the gender representation on Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada remained firmly, and embarrassingly, in the dark ages. In 2016, how demotivating is that?

Regrettably, and despite the availability and clarity of feedback during its two year stint, there really wasn't much of anything substantial on Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada for the coveted millennial hockey fans to feel particularly excited to grab hold of and share.

The popular narrative currently going around is that, since Rogers Hockey Night in Canada under Strombo was just too edgy and glitzy for true, mostly older, hockey fans in Canada, a return to a calm familiarity was needed for the broadcast to reconnect with its bread and butter constituency. Yet, even parsing the research that's being trotted out by Rogers and the columnists to support this claim, I say that the perception gaps between Hockey Night's older and younger viewers have been formed in response to changes that were mostly superficial in nature.

In my view, Rogers Hockey Night in Canada didn't fail because Strombo oversaw and led a radical change in the show's format and content that only made sense to younger hockey viewers. It failed because, by refusing to deliver meaningfully contemporary and challenging content in modes that recognize and accommodate millennials' participatory media practices, Strombo's Hockey Night in Canada didn't actually change enough to match young hockey fan's generational interests and identities.

For those who rightly say that the 'new' Hockey Night in Canada was both a symptom and contributing cause of slow moving and complex disconnections between the game of hockey and its older and younger fan bases, there's still a sad irony in all that's transpired. For, if his talents and interests had been more deeply tapped into, and if his producers had truly enabled him to usher in some substantive content and format innovation, Strombo still might very well have been the ideal personality to help fuse the the older hockey viewers' requirement for cultural comfort with the younger, and future majority, hockey viewers' hunger for provocation, entertainment, and meaningful involvement.
Just please don't go over the tape of the last two years and tell me that this was the formula that the suits at Rogers actually tried.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Did Canadian Hockey Fans Miss Having Their Teams in the NHL Playoffs This Year?

For this piece, I interviewed four hockey observers to get their view of whether they missed having Canadian teams to cheer for in this year's NHL playoffs. While I felt a lot less interest in the playoffs due to the absence of the Canadian teams, and I expected many others to feel the same way, Dan Robertson, Andie Bennett, Kyle Roussel, and the legendary Roy MacGregor surprised me with their confident lack of concern. You can read the Eyes on the Prize version here.

Gauging the Interest of this NHL Post-Season Devoid of Canadian Franchises

Here we are in the Stanley Cup Final! Though the hockey world is still hoping to spend about one final fortnight focusing on the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the San Jose Sharks, and while a great many Montreal Canadiens fans will be shifting their attention between the Final and anticipating the great many moves that they hope will be made during the now kickstarted 'Summer of Marc Bergevin,' I've felt compelled to look backwards just a little bit.

It wasn't all that long ago when hockey fans north of border started to grapple with the reality that not a single Canadian-based team was going to make it to this year's playoffs. In the days and weeks that followed this news, panels were struck and comprehensive analyses were performed to assess the factors that contributed to all Canadian teams failing to qualify for the first time in 46 years.

While early reports revealed a mixture of fan disappointment and indifference, and despite the fact that public chatter on this issue mostly dried up, I've been curious about Canadians' thoughts and feelings now that they've made it through three rounds and are currently watching the last two teams battle for the championship.Beyond looking at the various on- and off-ice challenges, media discussion also addressed the damage that would be done to TV viewership, and hence to revenue for the fledgling Rogers national broadcast deal. And, of course, CBC radio played its instinctive culture-protection role by asking experts to consider the risks that a playoff season without Canadian teams would pose to our national psyche.

Now, I know that Eyes on the Prize readers will have most certainly suffered from this Habs-less playoffs, but in the absence of teams from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Ottawa, do hockey fans in Canada feel as though they were robbed of the chance to share in their fellow citizens' socially meaningful sporting experiences? Or, is the simple reality that Canadian hockey fans neither like to follow teams from other Canadian cities nor require exposure to those teams' peculiarly local storylines to fully enjoy the post-season of their national sport?

Interest in a post-season with no Canadian franchises

To help untangle my question of just how Canadian the hockey playoffs have to be for today's Canadian fans, I have turned to a keen set of hockey observers. And, while most of the observers agree that there are downsides to not having any Canadian teams in this year's post-season, this has neither been catastrophic for them nor for the state of the game of hockey in the country as a whole.

Dan Robertson just finished his second season calling play-by-play for the Montreal Canadiens on TSN 690 radio in Montreal. While the Trenton, Nova Scotia native would most definitely prefer to have been covering the Habs this post-season, he says he wasn't all that concerned about the failure of all Canadian teams to qualify for this year's playoffs.

"It bothered me for fans in the given cities. I felt bad for them," Robertson said. "But, personally, I don't care. To me, Vancouver is the same as San Jose. I don't look at it as a Canada-U.S. kind of thing. Where I grew up, there was no team close by, so [it wasn't] that if they didn't make the playoffs, then people totally lost interest. And, the people that I talk with today, they're still interested in the post-season, even though there's no Canadian teams. I don't really think it's a factor at all."

Having grown up in small town Nova Scotia as a fan of both the Habs and the Penguins, Robertson's interest in hockey wasn't premised upon strict geographic affiliations. Aside from having empathy for the fans in the cities outside of Montreal whose teams also didn't qualify for the post-season, it didn't particularly bother Robertson that the Canadian-based teams were left behind when the playoffs got underway.

Andie Bennett is another local professional sports commentator who had no opportunity to report on the daily ups and downs of a Canadiens playoff run this year. Yet, despite this absence, Bennett, a sports reporter for CBC Radio's Daybreak in Montreal, says she felt little when she first realized there would be no other Canadian teams in this year's post-season.

"Honestly, I could not care less about no Canadian teams," Bennett wrote in an e-mail. "Over the years, the Habs have built up better rivalries with American teams anyway, so those are the teams I end up invested in. I worry for the bigger effect on local businesses in Canadian towns that depend on the fervour to survive, but other than that, as a fan, I want the best teams with the best players in the postseason. Often [those players] are Canadian, even if they lace up for a team south of the border."

Having moved around as she grew up, Bennett has split her hockey partisanship between the Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers. Noting that not having the Canadian-based teams she likes to root for in the playoffs doesn't mean not having the best Canadian players to watch, Bennett, like Robertson, expressed only mild regret for lost business in the cities whose teams are outside of this year's post-season action.

Holding a professional responsibility for objective reporting, perhaps it's unsurprising that members of the media would put a little distance between themselves and social developments surrounding one of the sports they cover. Yet, an identical suspension of sentimentality regarding a lost playoff year for Canadian teams was shown by the non-media member with whom I consulted as well.

Kyle Roussel is a Montrealer, and a diehard fan of the Canadiens. Roussel says that he hardly batted an eye when he realized no Canadian teams were making the playoffs this year.

Like Bennett and Robertson, Roussel was unperturbed by the lack of Canadian teams. "Sure, I miss the unmistakable atmosphere that Canadian teams bring, no doubt aided by Canadian broadcasters," he said, "But if the Canadiens aren't going to win the Cup, then I don't want any other Canadian teams winning it, either!"

Lest we hastily conclude that there's absolutely nothing to the claim that Canadians have been unaffected by not having any of their local teams in the playoffs, there was some provocative insight expressed by the veteran of the group of observers with whom I spoke.

Roy MacGregor is an award-winning columnist at the Globe and Mail and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Known for writing passionately about the relationships between the sport of hockey and old-time Canadian values, perhaps it's not a surprise that MacGregor offered a rich perspective on the consequences of Canadian teams missing this year's post-season.

"I personally despise June hockey. The season should be over, as it once was, in April," MacGregor wrote. "Canadians suffering cabin fever have diminishing interest in the playoffs as they roll along. The days are longer and warmer, the evenings have light. The climax of the NHL season is NOT the awarding of the Stanley Cup. It is the first two rounds. By the time the Cup is raised, we've largely tuned out.

Premised on a careful distinction between caring and interest, MacGregor argues that, while most Canadians were neither emotionally nor culturally troubled by a 'down year' in which none of their teams made the post-season, the lack of compelling Canadian-centred stories is undoubtedly deflecting their attention away from hockey this May and June."Unless, of course, there's a secondary interest. Can Edmonton pull it off? Will Vancouver fans riot again? What is playoff fever doing to Calgary? There being none of this this year, I would suggest that Canadian interest in the dreaded third and fourth rounds of a playoff season is at its lowest ebb ever."

Whether it's been Steven Stamkos dramatically playing in a game seven of the Conference Final, the counter-narrative role being played by Phil Kessel, or even just the up-and-down hockey promised by matchups between the league's top offensive players and teams, the playoff viewing decisions described to me by the more junior hockey observers with whom I spoke defied MacGregor's theory that the non-local nature of this post-season's storylines would fail to spark late-round interest in Canadian fans.

Yet, while Robertson, Bennett, and Roussel all claim to have been paying reasonably close attention from Round One through to the Final, I couldn't help but ask them if their interest wouldn't have been just a little bit more intense if some of the on- and off-ice scripts were being written by players and coaches representing Canadian-based teams.

I was nearly laughed right out of the room!

Interest in a post-season with at least one Canadian franchise

Speculating out loud on how he might have felt had a sampling of different teams made the playoffs, Dan Robertson concluded that the 'Canadian Question' is a complete non-issue for him.

"If I know it's a Canadian city, like Calgary, I'd be happy for the fans there, but I just see it as another city in the NHL," Robertson said. "On the flip side, say the Eastern Final was Carolina or Columbus, I wouldn't watch three seconds of it. When it's what I consider to be a non-traditional market, I really find that disinteresting.

"Now, I look at Toronto, and I was disappointed the times I've been there to call games because it's one of the worst atmospheres in the NHL. With Winnipeg, however, I've called two games there, and the atmosphere was awesome. I would be glad had they made the playoffs. Not because it's a Canadian city, but because it's a city that really cares about its hockey."

Combining the viewpoints of both a fan and an observer whose job it is to describe the action to listeners at home, Robertson's hypothetical scenarios suggest that playoff excitement for him is much more contingent upon the ambiance and tradition offered by specific arenas and cities than it is upon an automatic connection to teams in his own national community.

"Maybe [I'd be more into it] if it was Edmonton. But, again, I think it has more to do with following their top draft picks, and maybe being mired in the basement for so long," Bennett said. "Sorry, but personally, the Canadian pride when it comes to hockey for me only comes into play with the international tournaments. I feel no more attachment to the Jets than to the Rangers or Penguins."While Andie Bennett laments the absence of a certain collective 'swagger' that comes from seeing Canadian teams do well, she also denies that her interest would have been higher had more Canadian-based teams made the playoffs.

Similar to Robertson and Bennett, Roussel insisted that his interest wouldn't have been any higher had teams from the Canadian cities qualified for this year's post-season. But, when he told me that a Leafs-Canucks Final very well might have turned him into a 'hate-watcher,' I was certain I lured him into admitting that the amplification of emotion caused by seeing two Habs rivals in this most unlikely matchup shows that the particular involvement of Canadian-based teams would generate exceptionally compelling fan experiences.

No such luck!

"If the Leafs or Sens were involved [in the Final], I'd probably be more inclined to stay away entirely, or at least at arm's length. Hate-watching the Leafs would probably ruin the playoffs because of the negativity that I'd be feeling all series long. I'd be pulling so hard against the Leafs that I would be stressed out and less likely to enjoy myself. In this instance, the likelihood that I tune out is actually higher than it is for Pens/Sharks."

As you can see, the results are quite clear. The observers neither feel a sense of existential loss over the lack of Canadian-based teams in this year's playoffs nor believe that Canadian-centred playoff storylines are more attractive than those that emerge from non-Canadian communities.

I was definitely happy to see such confidence being exuded by my observers as they delivered their post-nationalist attitudes, but I was still left feeling a little uneasy.
The Toronto Raptors and the rapid ascent of lone Canadian teams in other sports

With no Canadian teams in the playoffs, and with Canadian hockey fans quite unalarmed, are we not possibly on a slippery slope towards collective apathy? Furthermore, with the national ascendance of the Toronto Raptors, and growing out their recently concluded and patriotism-inspiring playoff run, there's been a growing debate over whether basketball might eventually replace hockey as our national pastime as younger generations of sports fans become increasingly visible and influential in the national sporting scene. As if to allay my own fears, I felt compelled to ask my observers how they felt about the idea that the NHL, especially with the Canadian-based teams at an all-time low, may be vulnerable to being eclipsed by the NBA in Canada.

Of all the hockey observers with whom I spoke, Andie Bennett expressed the most enthusiasm towards the Raptors and towards the sport of basketball. Describing herself as attracted to most sports that provide energy, commitment, speed, and skill, Bennett's thoughts also demonstrate some of the specific areas of appeal that basketball seems to be offering to younger sports fans in Canada.

"I have totally been watching the Raptors." Bennett said. "I think [basketball] will always have an economic attraction, like soccer. Hockey is not an accessible sports for many families. There is something beautiful and pure about a sport where you just need a ball and a net. And, of course, when a local team has success, that garners interest from the younger generation. The Raptors really did something special this year. Who doesn't want to be a part of that?"

Unlike Bennett, Kyle Roussel didn't tune in to the Raptors as they played their way to the third round of the NBA playoffs. And though he recognizes its growing popularity and potential threat to the business of hockey in Canada, Roussel has little fear that basketball will overpower hockey as Canadians' favourite sport.

Though Dan Robertson echoes Roussel's sense that Canadians aren't about to abandon hockey for basketball, he nevertheless believes that the NHL can learn something about how to appeal to socially diverse young generations of Canadian sports fans from the NBA and the Toronto Raptors."The growing popularity of both basketball and soccer nation-wide should concern the NHL at least a little bit considering that a huge chunk of their revenue comes from a small percentage of their teams," Roussel said. "As a hockey fan, I'm not really concerned. I think hockey is so deeply entrenched in Canadian culture that it will not be challenged for at least a couple of generations, if not longer."

"If you look at the Raptors games, and at Jurassic Park, it's a really diverse crowd. Not everybody's milky white. Everybody's out there together, and I think that's great," Robertson said. "So, maybe basketball could take away some fans from hockey in the Toronto area, but it's just so ingrained in this country. It's the love of hockey, and I don't ever see it changing to where they're losing considerable amounts of fans. But, basketball does a good job of marketing to younger fans, and I think that's a smart way to go."

While most of the observers gave at least a tip of the hat to basketball's refreshing qualities, and even acknowledged that the sport's effervescence may offer something uniquely attractive to Canadian sports fans that hockey currently does not, does the veteran MacGregor believe that basketball could become more popular than hockey in Canada?

"Not a prayer. That's a Toronto-centric argument at best, but it's not much of one," MacGregor said. "The culture of this country is inextricably tied to hockey. Even if the other sports grow -- and good for them if they do -- and even if cheap soccer enrolment surpasses hockey, the game of Beliveau-Howe-Hull-Lafleur-Gretzky-Lemieux-Crosby, and so on, will rule for as long as we can see into the future."

That's it! As I was reflecting on the defiantly emphatic nature and content of MacGregor's sentiments, it finally hit me.

The security of the national game

While there are all sorts of cultural-nationalistic reasons for expecting Canadian hockey fans to especially value and desire the participation of Canadian-based teams in the NHL playoffs, and while many Canadian sports fans may have been rather intoxicated by the Toronto Raptors this season, it's the very confidence they have in the status of hockey in their community life that's protected them from experiencing significantly adverse reactions to the full failure of their country's teams to appear in the post-season.

Now, throw another few years of playoff drought for our teams, an NBA expansion into Canada, and a return of the Expos to Montreal into the mix, and all bets are off. But, at least for the time being, Canadians are secure in their belief in their favourite national sport, even if the very best that it has to offer is currently only going down outside their national borders.

Evaluating Rogers Hockey: Year One!

Originally published on Habs Eyes on the Prize on April 18, 2015, I asked three hockey observers to give their views of how Rogers did in its first year as Canada's national hockey TV broadcaster. With Rogers currently making severe cuts and changes to its broadcast package following two subpar years (subject of a blogpost in the very near future), the comments and assessments provided by Ted Bird, Christopher Curtis, and Marcy Di Michele in this piece proved to be quite prescient. You can read the Eyes on the Prize version here.  

How Did Rogers Hockey Night in Canada Do in its First Year?

The playoffs are underway! That means we've all made it through year one of the massive new Canadian TV hockey deal that put Rogers in charge of almost everything.

Though the initial announcement of the deal took almost everyone by surprise, and drew a fair amount of criticism, the results of the lengthy and reportedly dramatic negotiation process sealed the fate of Canada's national hockey mediascape for the next eleven years. There was a lot of uncertainty in the air, but hockey fans came into this season well prepared for what promised to be a significantly altered viewing reality.

Out went Ron MacLean and James Duthie from national prominence, and in went George Stroumboulopoulos.

Out with a focus on Canadian teams on Saturday nights, and in went multiple game-viewing options.

Out went the old Hockey Night in Canada set, and in went a new massive broadcast studio and technological innovation for game coverage.

There would be (a little) less Don Cherry, and a lot more Damien Cox and Doug MacLean.

It promised to be a revolution.

Over the course of this season, fans and media watchers were given inside accounts of how the Rogers hockey broadcast worked, updated on the deal's expected versus actual financials, and shown poll results describing how viewers were reacting to the changes in on-air personnel. My own Twitter feed hummed with the same kind of of Rogers-directed critique that I'm already seeing this playoffs, but what more can be said about Rogers hockey at the end of its first year? Did we see a vast improvement to the TV coverage of the good old hockey game over the season? Or, did we miss the people and the shows that we had, and that we basically seemed to enjoy, before?

To assess Rogers hockey in its first year, I've gone to three outspoken hockey observers and media contributors for their expert views. Given the reality in which almost everyone in Canadian media works for either Rogers or Bell, and lest one's opinions be influenced by one's professional affiliation, I turned to experts who have some, but maybe not total, distance from these two telecommunications giants.

Ted Bird is the Morning Show host at CHSV Radio, The Jewel, based out of Hudson-St-Lazare, Quebec. Author of a versatile blog, Bird's done loads of hockey media/analysis work in recent years, and he makes occasional appearances on the Montreal Gazette's Hockey Inside/Out Show. With an early start in news, Christopher Curtis has spent this hockey season as a Montreal Canadiens reporter for the Montreal Gazette. Curtis' thought-provoking reporting and analysis of Habs-related affairs has received much favourable attention, and he has also appeared on the Hockey Inside/Out Show. Finally, Marcy Di Michele covers the Edmonton Oilers, and the wider NHL, for The Hockey Writers blog. Di Michele's keen insights have been noticed, and have brought her opportunities to contribute to CTV News.

While all three media experts were surprised by the sheer size, and financial scope, of the Rogers deal, only Di Michele told me she came into this season somewhat concerned about some of the major changes that would come to the Hockey Night in Canada show to which she'd felt attached since she started watching as a kid. Bird and Curtis were ready for the change, and they also expected to see a continuation of the professionalism and quality in hockey broadcasting they were used to from CBC and TSN.

Going beyond their expectations heading into this season, I asked each of the media experts the same set of questions about what they saw during the first year of Rogers hockey. Aside from full agreement on what all the experts described as the annoyance of Rogers' nebulous regional blackout policy, the experts gave varying answers across four different question categories: game broadcast, intermission programming, George Stroumboulopoulos, and Habs coverage.

I present the media experts' analysis of year one of Rogers hockey below.

The Game Broadcast

Even with the blending of staff between Sportsnet and CBC (plus Dave Randorf and Mike Johnson from TSN), there was concern heading into the season that Rogers might not have enough quality talent to properly cover its massive schedule of games. As they watched their favourite teams over the season, the media experts don't totally agree on the level of quality of the Rogers broadcasts.

For Marcy Di Michele, some of the fans' biggest concerns about talent shortage have definitely been realized.

"Every chance I have to watch a broadcast on TSN over Sportsnet, I take it," Di Michele said. "I think Rogers dropped the ball not signing Chris Cuthbert. He's one of the best in the business. The talent is spread pretty thin because of all the national coverage. I know the guys they have are doing the best they can, so I don't want to criticize individuals."

Unlike Michele, veteran media man, Ted Bird, says the quality on Rogers has mostly been fine. And while he thinks it's time for some CBC talent to move on, Bird also appreciates the new-old personalities who have found their way back onto Canadian hockey TV under Rogers.

"I haven't seen a significant different in the quality of the broadcast because it's a lot of the same people doing a lot of the same things, in front of and behind the cameras," Bird said. "[It's] nice to see Paul Romanuk back in the saddle, but Bob Cole should have been put out to pasture long ago, in my opinion."

Count Christopher Curtis among those who had hoped that the Rogers broadcast would actually bring some interesting innovation in how they game is showed to the viewers. So far, he's been a bit disappointed.

"You spend billions of dollars getting the hockey rights, you're going to want to tinker with some things, and almost all of the tinkering was in vain because they don't use all those [new] things," Curtis said. "The one technological innovation that really actually does make the game a little bit more of an enjoyable experience is only available in Toronto. I like the Sky Cam. It's the one camera rig that they've built that isn't hokey, and you only [got] to see it in games where literally nothing [was] at stake because Toronto [was] playing."

Along with noting some of their particular disappointments, the media experts give Rogers game broadcasts a satisfactory evaluation.
Intermission Programming

What did it mean to hockey fans to have no Ron MacLean and less Don Cherry during intermissions on Saturday night games? Was it a loss to say goodbye to Hockey NIght in Canada's panels? Did Rogers hockey new approach to intermission programming draw fans into the games and players in a way that CBC and TSN did not? Regarding intermissions, I asked the media experts to consider three specific areas: hockey analysis, Don Cherry, and the diversity of the Rogers broadcast team. Their responses are mixed.

Hockey Analysis

Ted Bird appreciates Rogers' new 'USS Enterprise' studio, but he argues that the content delivered by the intermission teams fails to meet previously high standards of Canadian hockey broadcasting.

"As a group, the intermission casts are palatable and competent, but still have a long way to go to match Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, James Duthie, Aaron Ward et al at TSN for broadcasting chops and journalistic credibility."

Marcy Di Michele agrees with Bird that hockey content and analysis are lacking on Rogers hockey, but she sharpens the stylistic and substantive criticism an additional degree or two.

"Intermission shows [have] become more like a gimmick than actual hockey content, however, I much prefer the analysis of guys like Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie as opposed to the talking heads at Rogers," Di Michele said. "I feel as though Sportsnet intermission broadcasts are a bunch of guys who think very highly of themselves, trying to one-up each other rather than actually provide insightful hockey analysis. Or, name dropping all the famous players they know and telling us boring stories of when they were in the NHL."

Taking a bit of a bigger picture approach, Christopher Curtis believes the problem with intermission content in hockey broadcasting has more to do with generically stifling formats than with particular individuals and their talents. Yet, Curtis explains the lack of creativity he saw during Rogers' intermissions this season.

"It's the same basic principle," Curtis said. "It's too safe. It's so formulaic that you would have like to have seen something a bit different. Small documentaries, small segments that look at what's happening outside the lines, issues like domestic violence, sexual violence, which we've seen in hockey this year, PEDs, doping, not only concussions, or the one or two hot button issues. I would have liked to have seen something a little bit different, but you didn't see it."

Don Cherry

The media experts were in agreement that hockey substance was lacking during intermissions on Rogers hockey, but they don't see eye to eye on the status and performance of Don Cherry and Coach's Corner. Interestingly, their contrasting views defy expectations that one might expect based on a consideration of gender and age demographics.

Marcy Di Michele views the Don Cherry-Ron MacLean partnership as an institution in Canadian hockey broadcasting that is being unnecessarily phased out by Rogers.

"As for Don Cherry, I know many people don't care for him, but he's good TV," Di Michele said. "He and Ron MacLean are a good duo and it's a real shame they're getting pushed out the door."

While both Bird and Curtis acknowledge and respect Don Cherry's past cultural relevance, they also agree that the Coach's time is done. Curtis expresses his particular aversion to Cherry.

"I feel like there's this fear of being the network that will be remembered as the network that kills Coach's Corner. I have zero problem watching Coach's Corner die at this point," Curtis said. "It just doesn't feel like he's doing his homework any more. He's going back to the same three or four wells. 
There isn't enough violence in hockey. There needs to be more violence in hockey. Toronto needs to have more players from Ontario. The segment long ago became self-parody. Turn on the camera, point it at Don Cherry, 'Don Cherry, yell something crazy. Excellent! We're done. Let's move on.'"

Gender Representation

In light of an increasing public discussion regarding the fact that women want and deserve more prominent places in hockey media, I asked the media experts if they felt Rogers missed an opportunity to build a more diverse on-air team in terms of gender. The differences in responses to this question were split along a generational line.

For Ted Bird, the elder statesman, there was no need for Rogers hockey to alter the gender composition of its on-air team from what's been done before.

"A hockey broadcast crew with an overwhelming male presence is no different than the all-female panel on The View or predominantly Black hosts on BET," Bird said. "It caters to the target demographic. I don't have a problem with that. Broadcasting hockey games is a business, not a sociology experiment."

Di Michele and Curtis, both from a younger generation than Bird, see the question of gender in hockey broadcasting in a completely different manner, and they both expressed frustration with the standard situation in which women on-air talent are featured in supporting roles rather than as primary contributors of hockey content. Christopher Curtis describes his disappointment that Rogers has thus far failed to innovate in this area.

"The roles women can have are limited," Curtis said. "Women can never be weighing in. It's like, 'I can introduce it, because I speak well, and I'm on television, but I won't weigh in.' It's not these people themselves. It's just the roles that they're given. I would love to have seen Cassie Campbell have the chance to either do the colour commentary or the play-by-play, and that's just not going to happen. It's just this reliance on these old formulas. Come on, guys, tweak it a bit."

From intermission hockey analysis to Don Cherry to the question of gender representation on Rogers hockey, the media experts present diverging responses. In terms of an evaluation of Rogers' intermission programming, there are definitely indicators of dissatisfaction.

Arguably, one of the biggest questions heading in to year one of Rogers hockey pertained to the decision to bring George Stroumboulopoulos in to replace Ron MacLean. Viewed as the key for Rogers to appeal to a young and emerging generation of hockey viewers, the media experts' assessment of Strombo in his first year on the job is both mixed and in defiance of demographic expectations yet again.

Ted Bird endorses Strombo after his first year, and he sees him as a welcome change from Ron MacLean.

"I give Strombo credit," Bird said. "The decision to hire him was too hip by a half when Elliotte Friedman was the obvious heir apparent to MacLean. But, Strombo himself has done a good job of deferring to the 'experts' and not trying to make it about him, unlike MacLean, who was always too clever by a half and overtly insecure about his job."

Both Curtis and Di Michele acknowledge Strombo's skills, but fail to give him the resounding youth vote that Rogers was counting on capturing.

"I look at George Stroumboulopoulos and I remember him from the New Music," Curtis said. "I always pigeonhole him in that role, and I think maybe a lot of people do. Look, he's done more than a satisfactory job, and it does take a little bit of time to develop chemistry with the people you're on a panel with. So, I would say give Strombo a pass for this year. Let's not be too harsh on the guy, and let's see what he can bring us in the future."

Whereas Curtis looks ahead optimistically, Di Michele hits Strombo's performance in his first season where it might hurt the most.

"Strombo is a good interviewer, but he knows very little about hockey. I never understood why he's there, and I still don't. He can't fill Ron MacLean's shoes," Di Michele said. "Strombo is fine to do lengthy interviews a la Barbara Walters, but keep him away from intermission reports and actual hockey opinion."

Strombo may not have hit it out of the park in his first full season as host of Rogers hockey, but, in a split decision, the media experts say they'll give him more time.
Habs Coverage

There was one last question I wanted the media experts to mull over, and that was how the new Rogers hockey broadcast handled our very own Montreal Canadiens. As Habs fans, we're used to Toronto-centric coverage, and we've often felt that our team neither gets the airtime nor the appreciation that it deserves. Knowing that Strombo's a fan of the blue-blanc-rouge, hopes were a little higher heading into the season. What did the media experts think?

Whereas both Marcy Di Michele and Christopher Curtis say they'll often tune in to RDS to watch the Habs, Ted Bird appreciates most of what he's seen this year when it comes to coverage of the Canadiens.

"I like that we're getting a lot more Habs games in English. Pierre Houde is the best, but I still prefer watching in my first language when possible," Bird said. "John Bartlett is a premium play-by-play talent who deserves national exposure. Colour commentary and intermission elements of the regional broadcasts could definitely be better."

As a local Habs reporter, Curtis says he likes hearing the analysis that comes from reporters outside the Montreal media bubble, but he also feels that Rogers hockey has not delivered an upgraded commitment fro Habs coverage than what we've seen before.

"When the Habs get national attention, they've been treated as this regional curiosity," Curtis said. "The regional games, you can tell that they're saving a few bucks here and there. [Rogers] puts together a fine show, but, as any Montrealer, I have that inferiority complex. I would like to see the team, and the city, get more national recognition. But, it is what it is. The media centre of our country is Toronto, and we have to accept that, because, 'shut up Montreal, you'll get yours.'"

The media experts weren't blown away by year one of the Habs on Rogers hockey.


So, with all the money spent, and with the the changes to the Canadian hockey-media industry, the experts' opinions suggest that, while it was far from a catastrophe, Rogers has a fair amount of thinking and work do do before it will deliver a truly interesting and innovative hockey broadcast to Canadians in the next eleven years.

But, despite the concerns that were duly raised by the media experts, and that we all hope will be heard by the new national hockey media bosses, it's still hockey, and it's still Canada. We're all already tuning in to Rogers to watch playoff games this spring. And, with that in mind, I leave you with one last set of opinions from the media experts, their playoff predictions. After all, they come closer to reaching a consensus on the eventualStanley Cup champion than they did on the network that will bring all the action to the fans.

Enjoy the Stanley Cup Playoffs!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Participating in Quebec's Public Sector Worker Strikes

Last fall, Quebec's public sector workers launched strike actions to pressure the provincial government to come to a fair settlement in their ongoing negotiations for new collective agreements. As it appeared that public sector workers and the Quebec government were inching closer to an agreement, I wrote about striking with my colleagues at Vanier College. I describe how the experience of being together with fellow workers on the picket line led to some surprising and positive dynamics of solidarity and hope. You can read the piece on the Contexts Blog here.

Strike Days for Quebec Public Sector Workers (Originally published December 7, 2015)

My colleagues at Vanier College and I are among the hundreds of thousands of public sector workers who have been striking to pressure the Quebec government to accede to our demands in negotiations over our new collective agreements.

Working in a province whose government raised eyebrows when it stepped up big time to help a major private corporation in financial trouble, that recently proposed to increase salaries of its elected officials, and coming out of a national election in which the winning Liberal Party and now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on the principle that state spending, not more economic austerity, is needed to push Canadians through a difficult economic period, public sector workers in Quebec see themselves, and the services they offer to Quebecers, as more than worthy of social investment.

Weeks after demonstrating strong local willingness to take part in collective action, and after participating in three strike days over the last several weeks, we at Vanier were preparing for three consecutive days during which all public sector workers across the province would withhold their labour from their employers.

After the planned three-day strike was deferred to give provincial government negotiators time to reflect on our last counter-offer, the ConfĂ©dĂ©ration des syndicats nationaux recently announced that the Common Front, the network of all provincial public sector unions, would take part in a one day strike on December 9 if a deal with the government isn’t reached by that time. Some of the more militant unions in the network are locked in for three consecutive days of striking.

At the moment, and following a lengthy period of public and even government indifference to the negotiations, a lot is going on.

For the first time in his relatively young government, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is feeling heat to back down from his miserly approach to social spending. There’s been a recent rise of media chatter encouraging government negotiators to settle with the Common Front, as well as piecemeal tentative deals reached with specific unions. With hints that deals could be struck with all the province’s unions before the holidays, the situation is quite fluid.

We’re living in a time in which activism is both ubiquitous and off-putting. Whether it was the pots and pans tactics used by students during Quebec’s Maple Spring protests against cuts to education, the current wave of student protest over racism at U.S. universities, or even the power of hashtags to try to force change, those turning to non-institutional protest tactics are being met today with no small amount of public and media judgment and rhetorical retribution.

Yet, despite operating in a reality in which taking to the streets receives tepid support at best, representing an institutional context – Quebec’s Cegep system – whose utility is semi-regularly interrogated by vocal segments of the general public, and learning that a tentative non-monetary deal has been reached between the government and the college sector, I am enthusiastic about continuing to strike with my Vanier colleagues until acceptable deals are signed between the government and all public sector unions province-wide. There are many good sociological reasons why.

As our everyday schedules normally dictate that we typically fly past each other in the corridors, many of us spent our recent strike days with colleagues whose faces we’d seen hundreds of times, but whom we really did not know. For the first time in a long time, workers from different college sectors actually talked to each other on our strike days, and the stories we shared were neither limited to the substance of our demands nor to the fears we hold over threats to our jobs.

In the midst of our marching, and some singing and dancing, we swapped teaching philosophies, deconstructed Canada’s new prime minister, and we even strategized on how we could take part promoting an inclusive social democratic movement in Quebec. We shared reactions to the Paris attacks, considered how our community might be able to help Syrian refugees, and, of course, we marveled over the state of our revered local hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens.

Sure, strike days were organized to show the Vanier community what would be missing if we weren’t on the job. They’ve also been held to demonstrate to the provincial government and to our fellow Quebecers that we’re serious about opposing austerity and fighting for continued investment in the public sphere. Bridging the macro and the micro, strike days accomplished more than just that.

Countering the economic pessimism and perceived political limitations of our times, strike days gave passionate teachers and staff permission to imagine what it would be like to have significant public support for our community that’s trying its best to work for its students. Attuned to and inspired by global and national events occurring around us, they brought us to talk about different roles that we could play in building a Quebec and Canadian society that worked for all its citizens.

Don’t get me wrong. Strike days have made Vanier workers hungry for a collective agreement. But, by temporarily letting us believe in our capacities and in our social relevance, the interactive dynamics of strike days also animated a collective power that we don’t often get to sense during the routine.

Seeing the meaning of strike days to Quebec public sector workers in this way, and recognizing the social engagement potentials that they seductively unleash, it’s probably in the best interest of the Quebec government to settle with all of us as soon as it can.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Sociological Reflections on the Uneven Fan/Media Reception of the NHL's New 3-on-3 OT

For this piece, published at Habs Eyes on the Prize in December, 2015, I took on the question of how hockey fans and media analysts are reacting to the new 3-on-3 overtime implemented by the NHL for the 2015-2016 season. In speaking to an avid fan of the Montreal Canadiens, a Canadiens reporter for TSN 690 radio in Montreal, and a Montreal-based arts reporter who also maintains a regular blog on the Habs, I compared their views with some sociological ideas I've had about whether the wide-open and formless style of play associated with 3-on-3 hockey may clash with our contemporary cultural obsession with order and predictability.

Points, Purity, and Predictability: Exploring Disagreements Over 3-on-3 OT

When it was announced this past June that the NHL Board of Governors approved 3-on-3 overtime for the 2015-2016 season, the official explanation was that the league and its players wanted to make game outcomes, as well as the manner in which they were decided, more pleasing to the fans. So, one decade after the shootout was added to the NHL in order to bolster game excitement, league officials decided that 3-on-3 OT was needed to make hockey even more exciting.

NHL folks responded to the announcement by either talking up the unfettered offense that would be unleashed by the significantly opened ice space of the new extra frame format or by expressing hope that more games would be decided by back-and-forth team competition than by the single-man scoring of the shootout. Coaches and players expressed varying types of hesitation.

Would team tactics and player deployments be all-offense or all-defense? Would coaches be able to come up with any workable tactics for their players to execute at all? Would goalie stats go out the window? Would skaters suffer from exhaustion?

We're now more than a couple of months in and, aside from some early mainstream media and blogger endorsements, some unsurprising player objections, as well as some numbers that tell us that 3-on-3 is infusing offense into an NHL game that many say badly needs some, what more can be said about the hockey community's response to the NHL's new experiment?

In my own experience of watching a variety of overtimes this season, I've been absolutely mesmerized. During play like this, I've been routinely annoying my wife and daughter with the constant sounds of joy that involuntarily burst from my mouth. Resulting, moreover, from the absolute pleasure I've gotten from what looks to me like an obvious amplification of skill, precision, and speed, I haven't even been overly bothered by losses suffered by the Habs during OT this year.

Well, I may be just the kind of fan the NHL had in mind when the decision was made to transition to 3-on-3, but I've also noticed that many of my fellow fans view this development rather differently.

Peering outside my own personal viewing space this season, social media routinely tells me that the response to 3-on-3 OT is actually quite mixed. While some in my network are buying in, there's also no shortage of clear and strong opposition. So, rather than enthusiastically sharing my enjoyment of the OT action with like-minded souls on Twitter, my awareness of the critics has actually led me to hold back so as to avoid a potential backlash that celebration might elicit.

Compensating for the cowardice I've shown by staying on the Twitter sidelines, I decided to explore hockey community reception of 3-on-3 OT by talking to a few people with informed views on the matter. What became clear was that one of the major points of disagreement centers around the question of whether 3-on-3 OT is accepted as a pure, or authentic, form of hockey.
Eric Engels, who covers the Montreal Canadiens for Sportsnet, acknowledges that 3-on-3 deviates from the form that hockey traditionally takes. Engels argues that the type of play that it actually enables mostly outweighs some of the concerns he has over its hockey authenticity.

"I think 3-on-3 is highly entertaining, but don't believe it's any less gimmicky than the shootout is," Engels wrote in an e-mail. "Search the video archives and watch Tampa and Philadelphia in early October or go back to Los Angeles and Chicago [from a recent] Saturday night. [It's an] absolutely unbelievable display of skill, saves and beautiful goals. People say they'd rather see a tie. But, you'll never convince me that's more exciting."

While Engels accepts a 'gimmick' that he believes (despite its occasional sloppiness) is bringing a clear reward in terms of its on-ice results, the perceived novelty aspect of 3-on-3 is the exact point that drives others to reject it completely.

Rosalyn Roy is a Newfoundland-based blogger, author, and diehard Habs fan who can be found tweeting about her team on most nights they play. Contrary to welcoming the offense of the new 3-on-3 OT, Roy simply can't accept what she sees as the less-than-true hockey form that it takes.
"I hate it. It feels less like a fix for the skills competition that is the shootout and more like just another gimmick," Roy said. "The best strategy, if you can even call it that, seems to be to lose the initial draw, wait for a turnover or failed scoring attempt, and hope for an odd-man rush going the other way. Even at only five minutes, it's bound to tire out your skaters because of all the open ice. As far as gimmicks go, it's hardly a good sales pitch for newbie hockey fans and this old timer hates it just as much."

While not all critics of the new OT format reject the shootout as Roy does, the sense that traditional hockey is being eroded via this innovation can run pretty deep.

Brendan Kelly reports on arts and culture for the Montreal Gazette and CBC Radio's Daybreak in Montreal, and maintains his own Canadiens blog. Never pulling punches in his critique of his favourite team, or of the NHL as a whole, Kelly's opposition to 3-on-3 OT's dilution of the game of hockey is no less militant than Roy's.

"I do not like the 3-on-3 at all," Kelly said. "It's funny because I am a fan of the shootout. I think everyone enjoys that. But the 3-on-3 just looks goofy. I love playing 3-on-3 on a 3-on-3 sized rink. On a NHL-sized rink, it just becomes silly. It's really a typical Bettman innovation. Ideas coming from a guy who knows nothing about hockey culture."

Kelly's perception of threats to traditional hockey culture clearly provide powerful justification for his rejection of the inauthentic style of play that's resulting from what he calls a cold and corporate imposition of 3-on-3 OT. Yet, not all hockey observers I spoke to agree on the specific features of that cultural tradition.

Amanda Stein is a reporter for TSN 690 radio in Montreal who covers the visitors' dressing room at every Habs home game. In offering her appreciation for the style of play created by 3-on-3, Stein also presents a dissenting take on its place in relation to hockey's tradition.

"While the Canadiens haven't participated in too many 3-on-3 occasions this year, I've certainly enjoyed what I've seen from other teams playing in the new overtime format," Stein said. "I'm enjoying the quick pace of back-and-forth with so much free ice. I like the entertainment value of odd-man rushes, big saves, and one man's mistake is another man's goal. I think it showcases hockey talent better than an individual shootout move does. Ending 3-on-3 is much more in the spirit of the game of hockey - a team effort - whereas that dreaded shootout is much more individual."

So while the offensive production of 3-on-3 is definitely winning some observers over, mutations to the very game conditions that are enabling the offense violate others' conceptions of authentic hockey to such a high degree that endorsing the innovation is normatively impermissible.

Now, I don't know about you, but I find the claim that 3-on-3 defies hockey tradition to be dubious. Like Amanda Stein said, aren't pretty passes, risk-taking, and breath-taking collectively produced goals not part of hockey's tradition? And, like Eric Engels stated, if 3-on-3 OT provides these things more starkly than regulation play, and definitely more often than the shootout, isn't that a good thing? Or, if it really reminds us of the shinny that Brendan Kelly loves to play on the outdoor rink, aren't we actually tapping into a central part of hockey's great tradition by integrating 3-on-3 into the NHL game?

There must be additional explanations for the mixed reviews, and when I thought about all of this a little sociologically for a few moments, I really thought I'd figured it out.

When it comes to the world in which we live, and also our mundane daily lives, what do people crave more than predictability? We want to know what the interest rates will be for years, we read polls to tell us who will win elections in months, and we expect forecasts to allow us to plan for weather we'll face in weeks. Our tech devices are for communication, but we gleefully use their multiple functions to guide us through each part of each of our days in highly routinized ways. (Just think about how your routine gets thrown off if you leave your mobile phone at home one day.) So, comfort in predictability characterizes the workings of our wider social world. It's the same in sports and hockey as well.

As the public representatives of major businesses that put a premium on maintaining positive reputations, what have most athletes' public comportment and communication styles become if not predictably limited and dull? Engaged in minute-by-minute consumption of information about games, trades, and fantasy transactions, what are sports fans routinely doing if not trying to predict the accomplishments of their favorite players and teams? And, as the numbers are gathered, analyzed, reported, and debated, what's the new generation of fancy stats bloggers and writers doing if not working according to the belief that the seeming chaos of player deployments and plays can be converted to understandings that might lead to more predictable team tactics and outcomes?

It's within this broad social context that the NHL dropped 3-on-3 OT into hockey. With its significant and intentional heightening of uncertainty, randomness, and un-predictabilty, I wonder if 3-on-3 OT isn't just a a little too displeasing for today's players and fans who've been trained to embrace sports and life routines that depend nearly entirely on order and the expected.
Well, as good as that theory might sound at a sociology conference or in a classroom, according to the hockey observers with whom I spoke, player and fan rejection has little to do with a lack of fit between 3-on-3 OT's inherent unpredictability and the predict-all logic of the wider world in which we live. For them, the wider opposition comes down to much more basic negative emotional and psychological reactions people are having to an unfamiliar change made to a game whose features they've known intimately for quite some time.

Leaving aside her own view that it deviates from authentic hockey tradition, Roy suggests that many other fans aren't warming up to 3-on-3 OT because, despite the hype, they're actually underwhelmed by the on-ice product they're seeing from the change thus far.

"Fans don't like 3-on-3 because, like the shootout, it favors the faster teams," Roy said. "Workhorse teams are not going to benefit from it. Like the shootout, it reduces team effort to a lucky snipe, only with two more players on the ice, and at a faster pace. Big whoop de do."

Eric Engels believes that some players and fans struggle with 3-on-3 OT because it leads them to feel intensified disappointments in response to those parts to the games that, due to their respective ways of being competitive, they never really want to confront.

"Seeing as how I view 3-on-3 as the same type of gimmick as the shootout, I believe what fans don't like about it is the anticlimax of seeing their team lose in that situation," Engels said in his e-mail. "I've been to several hundred hockey games at this point, and I've never seen fans all sitting and quiet during the shootout. But, when their team loses, it goes dead silence. It's the same thing for the players. The Canadiens were ornery after 3-on-3 losses against Ottawa and New Jersey. They don't like losing, and they especially don't like losing in a format where mistakes are magnified."

While Brendan Kelly insists that most fans agree that 3-on-3 is a "travesty" that has little to do with the game of hockey, similar to Engels, he also points to a specific and negative psycho-emotional context when giving his view of why not all the players are embracing the change. For Kelly, 3-on-3 OT can bruise players' egos.

"The players don't like it because it's very hard for them to play this game," Kelly said. "The teams, notably the Canadiens, don't know how to play 3-on-3. It's almost impossible [for them] to set up to play 3-on-3 on a rink this size, and thus they often end up looking downright amateurish out there."

For Amanda Stein, player and fan hesitation is not so much about intensified emotional discomfort they experience in response to key moments of a 3-on-3 situation. Rather, the resistance is mostly evidence of a near universal human tendency that most of us have to be slow to embrace change in the worlds around us.

"I chalk it up to learning to adapt to something new, to accept new additions to the game we hold so dear to our hearts," Stein said. "It can be a scary thing to watch things change. Consider Erik Karlsson, who first called 3-on-3 'boring,' then backtracked a couple of days later saying, 'I really liked the 4-on-4, so maybe I'm going to give 3-on-3 some time.' It boils down to learning to accept the changes that are coming to the game of hockey, and requiring the time to accept that it does."

So, let's summarize. While some fans and players enjoy a 3-on-3 OT that's facilitating goal scoring and the liberated collection of points for their teams, others reject it as an unholy deviation from traditionally pure hockey. Though the hockey observers made a convincing case that the opposition is better understood as the psychology of hurt feelings than as illustrating the sociological effects of the force of the culture of our times on hockey fans' tastes, at this early stage in the 3-on-3 experiment, there's clearly a paradox.

The NHL brought in 3-on-3 OT with the hopes that it would allow its players to make the game of hockey more fan friendly, but a sizable number of hockey fans, and maybe even players, hold mostly unfriendly feelings towards the place of 3-on-3 OT in their favourite sport.

Regardless of your own view, and like one of the hockey observers said, I don't expect that our overall love for the game will be eclipsed by the reality that two solitudes appear to have formed around 3-on-3 OT in the NHL.

"As the years go on, questions about the change will become less frequent, we'll talk less about it, and it will just be part of the game," said Amanda Stein. "You can't make everyone happy in this situation, unless I guess you score the overtime winner. But, remember, there's no 3-on-3 OT in the playoffs. And, that's when the games really matter."