May 11, 2008
Some of you may know I have a book called "Glow Pucks & 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History," so I've got a little history with FOX's ill-fated attempt at making the puck easier to locate for people that can't seem to keep up with a constantly moving black speck on a completely white playing surface. For me, it wasn't so much the fact that the puck glowed -- it was the red comet tail that was initially added to every shot over a certain speed:
Nothing like watching a professional hockey game and expecting to see an Italian plumber run out, eat a mushroom and start stomping on turtles. But I have to half-heartedly defend the "Fox Trax" technology: It was later applied to NASCAR and other sports to better track the action, to a much more palatable effect. From something very, very bad came something quite accommodating.
Michael McCarthy of USA Today reports that Versus and the NHL are talking about introducing "puck-tracking" technology for implementation as early as next season; and the shadow of the glow puck looms large over the discussions:
Marty Ehrlich, executive producer at Versus, has been pushing for a new puck-tracking system with NHL executives. If Versus gets the OK, it would test puck tracking on its studio show before trying it during a game, he says. There would not be any computer chips embedded in pucks, at least at first. "We're looking to track the evolution of a play," says Ehrlich. While puck tracking is on his "wish list," he admits it's still a "sore subject" with hockey purists. "There's people who looked at it as a great success at Fox. A lot looked at it as a dismal failure."
Marc Fein, Versus' senior vice president of programming, says puck tracking could be a great tool to trace the pinpoint passing of NHL stars. "You could see how they thread the needle," he says. NBC and other networks employ tracking technology to trace the flight of shots on golf telecasts. The Golf Channel, Versus' sister Comcast network, recently won its first Sports Emmy for its AimPoint technology, which predicts the break of a putt, Fein notes.
So are fans ready for another attempt at "puck-tracking?"
The words "glow puck" were never used in the article to describe what "puck-tracking" actually means, and Versus said there will be no computer chips placed inside the pucks; which is great, because the inside of a true hockey biscuit should never look like a rejected prop from the set of "Doctor Who."
I'll approach this with an open mind, because it sounds like Versus would like to use this technology in a more analytical way than to simply track the puck during live action. If this innovation can enhance that analysis, or augment live action with clever graphics like the NFL does so well, this could be great -- as long as hockey on television doesn't look like an overcrowded PlayStation game. Hockey on television needs innovation. It needs better presentation. This could be very good news indeed.
But let's not revise history here: The glow puck was a dismal failure. If Versus's new technology brings us back to comet tails and bad CGI in the corners, it might as well preempt every game on its schedule with large-mouth bass cage-fighting rodeo to save puckheads from the embarrassment.