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.