Football reigned supreme in my life as a youngster, but hockey wasn't all that far behind. Growing up in the northern Midwest led to a love of the ice more than most kids across the USA. In fact, many have compared the Omaha, Nebraska lifestyle to growing up in Calgary, Alberta. So, with snow drifting higher than rooftops, and with lakes and ponds frozen over for months on end, owning several hockey sticks by the age of five was not uncommon in my neck of the woods. This love and understanding of hockey really blossomed, believe it or not, with my move to the desert. Las Vegas, Nevada. Not only could I view several games per week in my local book, but I could also make money wagering against linemakers with BetBubbles, who at the time, didn't spend too much of their day worrying about the latest NHL happenings. Then, in 1993, the now-defunct IHL decided it was time to put a franchise right smack in the middle of the desert. I quickly jumped on board. After meeting with new LV Thunder coaches, I took the job of charting and diagramming opponents' plays. I made note of every aspect of an opponents' 60-minutes. From power-plays, to how they reacted in short-handed situations and everything in-between. It was a great learning experience, especially when you consider that I was working under the legendary Butch Goring and his former Islander teammate, Bob Bourne. Six years, three coaching staffs, and two years after I called it quits, the Thunder franchise folded. Not long after that, so did the IHL. My love of hockey and my absolute joy of beating the lines are deeper than ever, even with last year's nightmare. Now, it's time to bone-up on the new "Americanized" rules, get that jump on the linemaker, and put the biscuit in the basket! While the attention- grabbing rule change has been the elimination of the two-line pass in the neutral zone, (the redline will still appear), there have been several that must be noted, and one that will either make or break all of the rule changes. First of all, their will be an additional four-feet in each offensive zone. The neutral zone will now be 50-feet wide instead of 54. And, goal lines will be two-feet closer to the end boards. The reason for the adjustments is to create offense, especially on power plays. Are you listening American TV audience? Secondly, the "tag-up rule" is making a return to the ice. This allows offensive players who preceded the puck to the blue line, return to it and tag it, so to speak. The league is hoping this rule will cut down on the number of offsides, allowing a better offensive flow to the game. Goaltenders' equipment will be reduced. That includes smaller leg pads, blocker (blocking glove), and upper-body pads. And, goalies will also be wearing tighter sweaters and a reduced pant-size. There will be new instigator rules and penalties that will continue to reduce the "goon-factor". Again, it's a new rule made for American TV, and to keep the flow intact. There will be a shootout at the end of any scoreless, five-minute overtime. So, there will be no more NHL ties. But none of this will be a major factor in speeding up the game and creating an offensive flow to quench the American palate, unless the officials clamp down on interference, hooking, and holding & obstruction. There is supposed to be a "zero-tolerance" approach to these offensive killers. Mario Lemieux can attest to the importance of this new rule. One can only imagine how many more goals and points Super-Mario would have scored if this approach were only 15-years sooner. The Avs, Canucks, Flyers, and Lightning, should benefit the most from the new rules geared to offensive flow. While nothing less than another lockout-season could help the Capitals and Sabres! I hope that helps clear the ice as far as the new rules are concerned. The NHL wants to head in a new direction to help bring new faces to the arenas. I expect a lukewarm response by my American sports brethren, but two things are for sure: Once you've seen your first NHL game in person, you'll be won over for life. And, after we get a half-dozen games under each team's belt, nothing will be easier to beat, than the NHL lines. Be sure to check back from time-to-time throughout the season for my news and views on the most interesting NHL season in quite some time.
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