Last Saturday, having played only one month of games, the Chinese Taipei Ice Hockey Federation canceled the remainder of its season. When the NHL crashes, it crashes in a great fury of rants and protests, but when Taiwan hockey went down it went down quiet, barely even letting out a little Facebook whimper as it died. The reasons for the cancellation are a different post for a different time- blah blah IIHF blah blah transfer cards etc- but what is worth noting is the mechanism of destruction. The Federation does not run the hockey league in Taiwan, so it technically did not disband the teams nor dismember the institution. The Chinese Taipei Ice Hockey League, if it wants, can still exist on paper. The only place it cannot exist is on the ice. The Federation, you see, controls the arena, and to destroy the League, all it had to do was pull its ice time.
In Taiwan, as in most warm countries, as, indeed, in most cold countries until the modern era, the single most important question in hockey is this: who owns the ice?
We don’t think about this question so much anymore. In the contemporary NHL, most franchises have tight, direct control of their own arenas, which makes the issue seem moot- the ice and the team as inextricably linked institutions, the difference between the two barely worth considering. Nevertheless, it’s still an important question. Ask yourself this: why is it that NHL owners can afford to lockout their own product and cancel their own season with no fear of retribution? What is it that makes it impossible for a competing rebel league to rise up and put out a different brand of elite hockey in the NHL’s core markets? Certainly there is the audience for it, certainly there is the desire, certainly there are men wealthy enough and angry enough to take on the project. But there is no ice. The facilities that could even dream of hosting NHL-level hockey in NHL-quality markets are few and virtually all of them belong to the owners of NHL teams. A rebel league would have no profitable place to play.