The NHL game has evolved significantly since Mark Messier cut his first strides in 1979, so why wouldn’t the way we watch hockey evolve as well?
“Just because we’ve done something for 50 years doesn’t mean it can’t be better,” says Messier, a Hall of Famer and Rogers’ NHL ambassador. “We took out the red line, we stopped hooking and holding, we’ve changed the rules of the game to make a better product for the fans. Why are we doing new technology for how we watch a game? To create a better experience.”
That new experience was revealed Monday at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. It includes five new, unique camera angles available on Game Plus, a second-screen feature available to Rogers GameCentre Live subscribers. (Learn more about GameCentre Live here.)
In addition to live-streaming more than 1,200 NHL games this season, fans with GameCentre Live will also have the option of watching replays and live feeds from five new perspectives, including the referee’s head, for select NHL games each week, plus the All-Star Game, Winter Classic and select playoff contests. While the traditional TV broadcast can deliver two or three angles, Game Plus will now deliver up to eight different feeds.
“Nobody needs to panic. We’re still going to be able to watch the game in the old, traditional ways, but it’s going to give you more opportunities to watch from different angles,” Messier says. “That’s what’s exciting about this.”
GameCentre Live is free until Dec. 31 for Rogers wireless and Internet customers. And those who purchase GameCentre Live get Game Plus –- the result of a $10-million technology investment — bundled in automatically. If you subscribe to the competition, however, you can’t purchase Game Plus.
“From a pure innovation investment perspective, Rogers has invested millions of dollars, and we’ve invested millions of dollars for our customers,” says Rogers Media president Keith Pelley. “It puts customers in control and gives them access to angles they’ve never had before on any screen. Fans who disagree with a ref’s call can now see the game exactly as the ref sees it. They can also watch multiple replay angles of the main plays in the game.”
Here are the new camera angles, which will debut Wednesday during the Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens opener on Sportsnet.
Fastened to the top of the referee’s helmet, this camera gives fans the sense of being on the ice in the thick of the action. The sound from this camera will pick up ambient noise from the rink, but the refs will not be mic’d up. Pelley says NHL officials are not opposed to doubling as cameramen, and that fans will actually be able to see when their view of a goal or an infraction is blocked.
“The one thing that stood out to me is the referee cam,” says Messier. “The game all looks so easy and clear from the typical angle—you can see the open man, see the open ice so clearly as a fan. But from a player’s perspective, you’re looking at 10 players on the ice with no room, all coming together. I think [the ref cam] will give people a better perspective of what the players actually see.”
It’ll give viewers an appreciation for magicians, Messier says, like former teammate Wayne Gretzky, who could find that open space.
“But it will also give fans a better perspective of what the referees do or don’t see because of the angles.”
Positioned in the 200 level of the ACC and used in pre-season trial runs against Buffalo and Detroit, the sky cam can follow the puck red line-to-red line at 20 miles per hour, giving viewers an overhead, video-game-like view of the action.
Spotlighting the speed of the game from glass level at the bluelines and catching reaction from inside the players’ benches, the POV cameras have already been knocked three or four times in rehearsal and have had to be reset during intermission.
“It’s really close to the action, and it’s incredibly steady based on the fact it’s on the glass,” Pelly says.
Messier feels strongly that the bench cameras should not be seen as an invasion of privacy.
“If the players are in the game, they’re not going to be thinking of cameras or microphones once the game starts. And if they are, then their focus is in completely the wrong area,” Messier says. “There’s a big responsibility that goes beyond the 82 games you have to play. There’s a responsibility and a collaboration that has to happen with the NHL, the NHLPA, Rogers and the fans that has to happen to put the best product possible on the ice for the fans to watch.”
When Rogers dished out $5.2 billion to secure the NHL broadcast rights for the next 12 seasons, these types of technological developments weren’t part of the discussion. A stars-first philosophy, however, was, according to Pelley.
Hence, the Star Cam, which will zero in and follow a specific star player for the duration of the game, whether it’s his shift or not. Leafs forward James van Reimsdyk will be the first to get the Star Cam treatment on Wednesday.
Though unfiltered access to players is seen as a relatively new phenomenon, thanks to the popularity of 24/7, Messier says the Oilers of the ’80s already understood the importance of letting fans get closer, which they did through 1987’s The Boys on the Bus.
“That was the original 24/7. But instead of six weeks, we did it for two years. They had complete access to our dressing room, to our team, to our players,” Messier says. “We understood as players it was an incredible way to document this incredible journey our team was going on.”
Goal Line Cam
This top-down view of the goaltender’s creases is the same angle used in the NHL’s video-review headquarters, allowing viewers to get the jump on controversial goals and watch big saves from a bird’s-eye view.
“I will be looking for a replay on the goal or non-goal, the close call,” says Messier. “A lot of this technology has been around, but it’s been around more for internal use, for the coaching staff. For parents and kids watching, they can now understand the game from a different perspective.”