This is the last part in our three-part series of sponsored posts on enhancing the fan experience. Today's topic that I came up with like ten minutes ago: the Intermission Entertainment. I can't believe I'd never written about this topic since it involves some of my favorite hockey stories, and it's something I've wanted to write about before. Now seems like as good a time as any.
I've been to a lot of hockey games, and seen a lot of these, most terrible, some utter genius. The key to good between-period entertainment is fairly simple: the greater the risk of injury, the greater the comedy. And with a giant slippery surface as a canvas, the potential for comedy is always huge.
To prove my point, here's a listing of some between periods entertainment I've seen ranked from least to most fun to watch:
-Score-O. Will he shoot the puck into that tiny cut-out or will he miss? Spoiler alert: He doesn't win that free Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse.
-T-Shirt Cannon- This one seems like it would be way up there, since it involves a giant gun, but the obstacle of the glass keeps anyone from getting comically hit with a shirt. Plus, the cannons inevitably use all their power on the first shot, and the next three or four are pretty lame. Also, free t-shirts are pretty high up there on the prize pantheon, right up there with free pizza.
-Chuck-A-Puck-Some places, mostly high school games, still use real pucks rather than the foam ones, and it's not cool to hit people with those. But seeing a mascot, or promotional vehicle pelted with foam pucks, always funny.
-Trying to find a prize while blindfolded at center ice-At it's best, it's humanity bonding together to help someone in need. That's also kind of boring. It's far more entertaining when people just shout random things at a confused person.
-Tricycle races- Joe Louis Arena often employs the traditional Crab Walk Race between rival schools, inevitably Michigan Tech's best hope for a win on the weekend, but the Crab Walk fails in a number of areas where the Tricycle race succeeds. The Tricycle Race is great because it provides much better opportunity for the three things that make any race great: taunting, cheating, and the possibility of catastrophic collision.
-The Slingshot-This was truly a marvel of science, sponsored by bygone high-caffeine soft drink Surge, which itself was a marvel of science. The hardware for the event was a giant foam puck with a bungee cord on both sides of the puck. Each bungee cord was then attached to the sideboards. A contestant then sat on the puck, while two assistants pulled him back as far as possible, before releasing him and sending him hurtling towards the net on the other end of the ice. If the contestant scored a goal and still had his head attached at the end, he won like a free case of Surge. It all seems simple enough except for the fact that the giant foam wasn't all that much smaller than the width of the net, meaning it took a pretty perfect shot for the contestant to crash straight into the net. The far more common scenario had the contestant crashing into a goal post at 25 mph. I'd love to see this return, but with all we've learned about concussions in the past decade, it doesn't seem likely.
-And finally, the greatest intermission promotion I've ever seen. This happened at the DECC in Duluth, and will probably be the only good memory I take from that cursed place when they finally demolish it. I'm not sure who sponsored it, or what the prizes were, but the idea was a dodgeball game on ice.
It was set up just like your typical dodgeball game. Seven people lined up across the ice from each other in the neutral zone, with a row of dodgeballs in the middle. The whistle blew to start the game and all 14 contestants took off at a dead sprint towards the middle of the ice to get first crack at those balls. About two steps away from the balls, there was a beautiful moment of group thinking where all 14 contestants, everyone in the crowd, and presumably, whoever came up with this terrible idea, realized for the very first time, 'Oh yeah, they're on ice. Which is kind of slippery'. Of course, it was too late for the sprinters, and the end result was seven open-ice collisions, most ending with feet first karate kicks as they desperately tried and failed to stop.
It was bad enough that the game should have just stopped right there. But for some reason, they kept on going. Thankfully, some forward-thinking it-getter had the common sense to say, "Hey, this seems kind of dangerous. Maybe they should wear helmets." Unfortunately, all the rink apparently had at their disposal were 14 of the Wayne Gretzky-style Jofa helmets; helmets that were ultimately banned by the NHL in the mid-90's because, and I quote, "they were about as safe as wearing a paper bag on your head".
Like every other dodgeball game ever, it didn't take long for one player to get a little too caught up in staring down one opponent, while ignoring another opponent, thus giving that other opponent a free shot. I'm not going to speculate if it was poor intentions or just poor aim, but the first player got absolutely blasted in the side of the head with a dodgeball. The Jofa helmet didn't just explode into pieces, I think it actually disintegrated. All that remained of it was a tiny black box with a recording saying, "This was a terrible ideaaaaaaa!"
Speaking of poor aim, I should also point out that the benches are on opposite sides of the arena, at the DECC, meaning both were in play, even if those that lingered on the bench didn't know it. One particularly hard throw was successfully dodged, Matrix-style, by one of the players, but an equipment manager, who had returned to the bench to collect and refill the water bottles wasn't so lucky and was drilled in the back of the head.
Somehow, all 14 contestants managed to make it out of the arena, many of them under their own power. I suddenly understood the appeal of watching gladiators at the Coliseum. There's certainly been nothing between periods at a hockey game that has ever captured my attention in an "I can't believe they're actually doing this," sort of way ever since, and, if common sense and threat of lawsuit prevail, likely never will again.