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01-02-2004, 12:31 AM
  #95
Rob
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A good piece by William Houston of the Globe and Mail.


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The world junior hockey championship, under way in Finland, could affect the way the National Hockey League plays its game in the future.

Here's how: So far, the competition at the tournament has been entertaining and full of action -- and the games have been played on a sheet of ice 94 feet in width.

Last week, on CBC's Hockey Night In Canada, analyst John Davidson raved about the offensive style of hockey played on a surface that is nine feet wider than the 85-foot standard North American sheet, but six feet narrower than the 100-foot European rink.

Davidson suggested the NHL increase the breadth of its ice -- not to 100 feet, but something in between -- and he was supported by the two hockey writers on the panel. The lone dissenter was host Ron MacLean, who said something about Finland and Sweden playing a trapping game on European ice.

Wider ice is a good idea and the media can make a impact on an issue such as this.

Two years ago, commentators praised the two-hour games at the Salt Lake Olympic hockey tournament. The league responded by bringing in quick line changes.

As well, Davidson has close ties to the NHL and, when he talks, the suits in New York probably listen, at least a little. If Canada and the United States play for the gold medal Monday and put on a spectacular offensive show, it could be difficult for the NHL to ignore the result.

There are other reasons for the league think seriously about increasing the width of the ice. If the idea is to give the skilled player more room, a wider surface is a better idea than Toronto Maple Leafs director Ken Dryden's crusade for four-on-four hockey, which takes hitting out of the game and fundamentally changes the sport. Can you imagine baseball dropping one of its fielders?

But the best argument is simply to compensate for the increased size and speed of today's athlete.

When the league started in 1917-18, the average height of players on the Toronto club, then called the Arenas, was 5 feet 9 inches. The average weight was 174 pounds. The current Leafs team has a average height of 6 feet 1 inches and a weight of 201 pounds. That's an overall increase in size of 11 per cent.

If you widen the North American ice surface by the same percentage, you get 94 feet.

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