Kraft Hockeyville, AHL style

Each year, small Canadian towns compete for the chance to host an “NHL” hockey game as part of the Kraft Hockeyville Challenge. In addition to the game itself, the winning town benefits with prize money, needed community support, financial contributions from the NHL and NHLPA and more. The “NHL game” is also supported with cross-promotional marketing, loads of press and a national television broadcast.

Clearly, it’s a big deal. In fact, it’s such a big deal that Tuesday night’s Buffalo Sabres-Ottawa Senators pre-season game featured most of one NHL team and approximately one-third of another. The Sabres dressed stars like Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Tyler Myers while the Ottawa Senators literally sat every one of their stars. Seriously, Jarkko Ruutu was on the first line.

Congratulations Dundas! Enjoy your NHL… errr, AHL game.

During the second period of Tuesday night’s telecast, Commissioner Gary Bettmen said “grassroot events” like this help grow the game of hockey. How? That was one of the most boring games of hockey I’ve watched in a really long time. I can’t imagine anyone who watched the game thinking “I’ve got to get into hockey.” At least five of the Senators who played in Tuesday’s contest were cut/sent down to the AHL several hours after the game concluded. A few more of the Senators who played in that game will be sent down prior to the regular season starting too. Since when does grassroots mean half-assed?

Want to know what would have made the 2010 Kraft Hockeyville game better? How about Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Alex Kovalev, Mike Fisher, Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar or Nick Foligno? None of these players, true NHL players, dressed for the Senators. I realize it was an out of town pre-season game, but that’s part of the problem. Let’s put an end to this “Congrats winning town, let’s sink millions of dollars into a pre-season AHL game.” How about modifying the Kraft Hockeyville contest for a chance to host a real NHL game. A regular season NHL game. A game that features true NHL talent.

I know, I know. Blasphemy. As crazy as I may sound right now, think of this: The NHL will set up regular season games all over Europe or in American baseball parks, but they can’t give a small Canadian town a regular season game? I’m sure some readers will feel this opinion is way over the top, but I  think the NHL can do better. Hell, they should do better. Tuesday night’s game didn’t do justice to the quality of hockey that exists in the NHL today.

The game of hockey has never been as skilled, fast or fun to watch. Unfortunately, 2010′s Hockeyville game didn’t show it. Maybe next year, we can have Kraft Hockeyville, NHL style.

Comments (9)

  1. Totally agree. Teams should have an obligation to at least ice the top half of their roster. Next time a bottom feeder team (in terms of home game attendance) rolls through Canada have a game in some small town as their home game (so Canadian team is away team). This way a Canadian team doesn’t have to lose a home game and the ticket sales that go with it.

  2. We all know the NHL is a business. I can’t imagine a single owner giving up a sold out home game in order to play in a tiny arena in some obscure town/city. Not that Dundas is obscure, maybe slightly stinky from the neighbouring Hamilton….anyway, it comes down to money.

    I love the thought of small towns hosting games like Mr. Burgundy says, make them real games…dressing an AHL team in NHL jerseys is a little sideways.

    Justin
    @hockeycardshow

  3. Totally agree…its a shame senators chose to put minor player on the roster for that night and not legit NHLers

  4. Actually, i could have sworn that Spezza and Gonchar played that game.

  5. Not that the Sabres are innocent, of course – none of their stars (well, depending on how you consider Stafford) played in Toronto on Monday. It’s a game-by-game thing, but credit to them for prioritising what sounded like a neat experience.

  6. Despite the less than star studded line up, it was the highlight of my week to tune in to a pre season game at a bar in Winkler Manitoba, and see it being played where I grew up at the arena I played minor hockey. Great idea, everyone back home was excited as hell, no matter who played.
    …and @justin kendrick, Dundas is surrounded by conservation area and in no way stinky. It is located West of Hamilton, and all the mills etc. are in the far east end. Poor Assessment.

  7. I agree with Howedy. I seriously doubt any of those kids in the building really give a rats ass who was playing in the game. They still saw guys they’ve heard of and an NHL paced game. Hell I’ve had fun watching a rookie game in practice facilities. That doesn’t mean it translated to good tv, but it was still fun. And I bet the people of Dundas and every other Hockeyville are grateful for the oppurtunity and aren’t crying about it not being regular season.

  8. I had the chance to attend and cover the Kraft Hockeyville events this past Monday and Tuesday including the Buffalo-Ottawa game.

    In a scrum with Lindy Ruff, he said his rationale for bringing Miller, Vanek, Pominville, Myers, etc. was because it was important to let fans see the regular and star players.

    I think your idea of a regular season game in a small town to showcase regular and star players is solid in theory except that all but a few clubs would probably be unwilling to sacrifice the substantial gate, parking and concession revenue that giving up even a single game would cost them.

    Dundas’ arena has just 980 seats. It would be a tough pitch for the marketing dept. of an NHL club to convince the accountants.

  9. There’s a lot that goes into taking a regular season game away from a real arena. Outside of the owner being out ticket sales that one would assume they’d expect the NHL to reimburse them for(fat chance knowing how cheap the NHL is), the concession vendors and such that work in the arena would also be out a large chunk of income, the arena employees would be out of a day’s pay that they would be expecting to get, etc.

    Then there’s season ticket holders, who pay for 42 tickets and expect to be able to see 42 games. Ottawa more than likely has many more season ticket holders than what that Dundas ice center would have held. If the season ticket holders were to get priority on the seating(which they rightly should, they paid to see their team’s home games), the local people in the community wouldn’t be able to see the game, which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

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