Blue ice no good for HDTV

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

One question comes to mind in response to the revelation that the Buffalo Sabres' farm club will experiment with blue ice.

Why?

Granted, the National Hockey League needs to overhaul its product and it is laudable that the moribund mastodons who make the decisions have finally reached that conclusion.

And although Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn is being extremely vague about the point, it appears that the NHL is behind this experiment.

But any movement away from white ice is not only a slap in the face to the game's traditionalists who will form the foundation of any success the league might have when it returns, it is an admission of total ignorance of the single most important factor in the NHL's future -- television.

In the NHL's head office, where you're much more likely to hear references to litigation, counter-suits and co-defendants than to pucks, goalies or power plays, perhaps the word "high-definition" has yet to make an impact.

But it has certainly made an impact in the television world.

High-definition television is the cutting edge and it could be the reprieve the NHL has been so desperately seeking. It is the ideal technology for hockey, and it will give the game an opportunity to win back lost fans and develop new ones.

Ralph Mellanby, who spent 20 years as executive director of Hockey Night in Canada and is one of the foremost television broadcasters in the world, is one of the many TV people who shares that view.

High-definition not only provides a crystal-clear picture, it uses a rectangular screen. For hockey, Mellanby says, that's perfect.

"The picture is the same ratio as the ice surface," he said. "The wide screen brings you in. Number one, you can watch it and see the puck better because of the definition. Also, the uniforms and everything about the game will stand out.

"But you don't have to be working at cutting cameras and doing other stuff because the ratio of the screen fits the ratio of the ice. You can see long passes and also the things that you never see now --which is the play away from the puck. Therefore you don't have to contour the game.

"With the screens we had before high-definition," continued Mellanby, "that ratio was wrong for hockey. All sports will benefit from this, but hockey will be the biggest beneficiary because you'll be able to see stuff the way you see it live."

Mellanby, now lives in Atlanta, an emerging hockey market. "All Americans," he said, "say the same thing: They say, 'I go to a hockey game and I love it, but when I watch it on television, it's not the same.' That's because hockey doesn't fit television."

At that point, Mellanby, whose son Scott is an NHL player, couldn't resist a dig at the game. "Well, maybe it does fit television the way the NHL plays it -- the scrambling crap it puts on -- but in the old days, one of the things you could never capture was the majesty of those beautiful plays. With high-definition, you can."

As an Emmy winner with a worldwide reputation, Mellanby has been involved with a number of studies regarding hockey on TV. He was the first employee Ted Turner hired upon purchasing the Atlanta Thrashers, and he was heavily involved with the Fox telecasts, although he quickly points out that he opposed the orange puck.

But the concept of using pastel-colored ice has been studied often -- and in great detail.

"We tried all that stuff before," said Mellanby. "The great thing, especially in the brilliance of high-definition, is the white ice. I checked all that out. I checked this out over and over. The engineering guys who are at the top of their game say the great thing about high-definition is the white ice.

"That was one thing we were certain of was the white ice -- even without high-definition -- was the way to stay."


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