World Cup of Hockey to bring enhanced viewing experience

Executive director of the NHLPA Donald Fehr joins Shawn McKenzie and John Shannon to talk about the fan village atmosphere, technology and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey being the beginning of more international events for the NHL.

The World Cup of Hockey may have gone dark for a dozen years, but its return could shine a light on where we’re headed in terms of how the game is consumed.

With the best-on-best tournament exactly one month away—it kicks off Sept. 17 in Toronto—the NHL and NHL Players’ Association were in Hogtown on Wednesday to announce several initiatives running in conjunction with the event.

Fans at home watching on Sportsnet or ESPN can expect an enhanced viewing experience, similar to what the NHL has done for All-Star Games in the past. Player jerseys and pucks will be fitted with tracking devices that will tell us how far a skater travels over the course of an entire game, what the precise gap between a defender and attacker is and the exact speed of a twine-bending shot.

It’s a trial balloon that, depending which way the wind blows, could lead to more permanent implementation.

“It’s two weeks; it’s in one place,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, “it really gives us an opportunity to test it before we have to decide whether or not we’re going to unleash it on 1,230 regular season [NHL] games.”

For those not content to absorb the action from the couch, a fan village in Toronto’s Distillery District will operate from Sept. 16 to. Sept. 25. Music, food that thematically matches countries playing just down the road at ACC and huge screens displaying the action should make for all the entertainment a hockey fan could hope for.

Regardless of where people take in the action, few are likely to miss a teal little detail. Each of the eight World Cup of Hockey jerseys feature SAP logos stitched on the shoulder. And while that little patch will likely send doomsday traditionalists running for a soapbox with the speed of Andre De Grasse, Bettman allayed fears this, too, is something he hopes will soon become commonplace in the NHL.

“Nobody should say that means the next step is to put them on NHL jerseys,” the commish stressed. “I’m a believer in the history, tradition and exactly how special NHL sweaters are. And while these World Cup jerseys have been designed from scratch and are spectacular, it’s not necessarily the same as the NHL sweaters.”

Beyond testing out some new technology, the World Cup is seen as a springboard to a more international-heavy hockey schedule. While Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said nothing has taken definitive form, expect to hear more about things like NHL games in Europe—maybe even Asia—exhibitions between North American teams and Euro clubs and, no doubt, other World Cups held at regular intervals, possibly at different points across the globe. As for NHL participation in the Olympics, Bettman said there’s no real update and didn’t convey a sense of urgency when addressing how things are shaping up for South Korea in 2018.

“The Players’ Association and I know that there are issues we have to address, but we have time to do that,” he said. “We probably don’t have to focus on that for at least another six months.”

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