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NHL Slapshot Stick Accessory UPDATE

Miss my initial comments on the Wii NHL Slapshot hockey stick accessory? Catch them here.

Wow, what a week. After our original NHL Slapshot article was linked to from Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, tons of readers commented and e-mailed with some locations where the stick can be found. Unfortunately, none of the correspondence said “They’re available everywhere like every other Wii accessory, so don’t even worry about having to look too hard or call ahead,” and none of them were from EA Sports clarifying the mind-boggling decision to not release the official stick separately alongside the game on Day One. But that’s OK, because we have some great readers who added their two cents to the comment section of the original post or through our contact page. Here’s a summary:

  • Reader “Johngo Fett” wins the reader of the week title after pointing out the availability of an NHL Slapshot stick at Bestbuy.com. I pointed out that the image-less ad was a bit suspect, but Johngo ordered it and confirmed upon its arrival yesterday that it is indeed the official EA Sports NHL Slapshot stick. Johngo says: “Got my Best Buy Stick today – I don’t even need to take pictures, because it is the official stick. Looks like it’s produced by ‘Sakar International’ and ‘Vivitar,’ but it’s got the nice fancy EA Sports hologram, the game branding, etc.” Now, be warned: this does not mean that the stick is available in all Best Buy stores. As of last Wednesday, it wasn’t for sale at my local store in NH. But if you’re willing to wait for the stick to ship, then click here to order.
  • Someone using the moniker “EA Sports” points out that the stick is available in all US KMart stores. I have been unable to verify this, mainly because most of the KMart stores near me closed down years ago. Has anyone else been able to confirm this?
  • Another reader, Chris, comments that the stick is available at all US-based Toys “R” Us stores. There’s no way for me to verify that statement, and the stick is not available on its website, so best to call before venturing out to the land of screaming children and Legos. (Update – the stick is now available on their website, click here)

I won’t proclaim to have any insight on what it’s like to work for a video game producer like Electronic Arts. But I would like to think that the suits in that company would throw up in their mouths a little if they knew that their target demographic was having to read pond hockey blogs and Google for directions to KMart in order to play the game as it was designed. I would say it’s like a bizarro Where’s Waldo?, but at least with our striped friend, you know he’s SOMEWHERE on the page. These sticks are more like Carmen Sandiego.

And that stinks, because I really want to see this game succeed.  It would be great to see EA put out a Wii-based hockey game annually and integrate some of the features found in their flagship NHL 11 product, such as online play. But the fact that we’re even talking about how difficult it is to get a hold of extra sticks (for a system that thrives on multiplayer, party-esque use) does not bode well.

Surely we’re not the only ones who are annoyed, right? I would like to think that someone at EA is listening, and that I’ll get an e-mail full of retailer links momentarily. Then again, I have heard nothing that will convince me that they’re not off somewhere coordinating the rollout of their latest NBA game exclusively at Anchorage-area Baskin-Robbins. At any rate, stick around and I’ll keep you up to date as best I can.

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Reader Photos: Scott Millin

This week’s Reader Photos comes from friend, hockey dad, and rinkbuilder, Scott Millin. Scott, whose backyard fire was borne after reading Jack Falla’s Home Ice, is entering his fifth year on the Millin Four’Em. I’ve said before that I might be the only blogger whose readers are better writers than he is. Scott proves this with his entry:

When I used to ask my now 12 year old son, Danny what sport he liked to play the best, baseball or hockey?  He would always reply, “You can’t make me choose!”  Years later I still ask him the same question, but now Danny always replies, “Hockey” before I can finish the question. When it comes to choosing a photo to demonstrate how I feel about the game of hockey, I feel like using Danny’s old line: “You can’t make me choose!”  There are too many experiences, memories, and images that I have stored on my computer and in my brain, which I still pull out on occasion to review and remember.

However, there are a series of photos that I think best reflect how I feel about the game of hockey, and all were taken on the ice surface of my backyard rink, the Millin Four-em.   Unlike most hockey photos, these three photos are not action shots; instead they are staged and were taken over each of the last three winters.




The subjects are my son Danny and three of his closest friends and I think the pictures – both individually and collectively – reflect what I think are the most important take-a-ways from the game of hockey:

1)      Fun. Hockey is a game, and games are supposed to be fun.  Each picture was taken after endless hours of 2 on 2 hockey – free form, spontaneous, no parents to make rules kind of hockey.  When the boys are out there I make a point to throw open the window so that I can secretly watch and listen to them argue about the score (and settle it themselves), laugh with and at each other, improvise and invent, and break a sweat on a frigid winter day.  Danny’s youth hockey experience is full of structure and strategy, and that’s okay.  But on our rink those things take a back seat to fun. I never have to say “Say cheese!” when I take these pictures – they are all smiles.

2)      Friends. Often the people who play the game of hockey spend more time in the locker room laughing than they actually spend on the ice playing the game.  That doesn’t happen in many other sports.  In these three photos I see friendships that have grown as steady over the years as the boys themselves have.  I look at the oldest photo and can’t believe how little they look.  I look at the most recent one and can’t believe how old they look.  Where does our time go?  It’s so fleeting and soon these boys will be off on their own; driving, dating, and doing things I am not quite ready to accept but know are inevitable.  However, I hope (naively perhaps) they will still always come back to skate on the rink and will always remain friends.

3)      The Struggle. As all of us know, life ain’t easy…and neither is the game of hockey.  Success in both is measured and happens at a gradual pace, but if you work hard, push your own comfort zone, learn to play nicely with others, and stick with it you can become a better player and, I am convinced, a better person.  Hockey lends itself to many metaphors and to achieve and excel at both hockey and life is like having the stuffing right beside your mashed potatoes on your Thanksgiving plate (each one is good but together they are great).   The four boys in this picture all started playing together in the same In House (non-travel) program.  Over the years they have worked hard and turned themselves into better players and better people.  As parents, that’s the gravy on our stuffing and mashed potatoes.

When he is an old man like me, I hope Danny doesn’t look back and only remember the practices, conditioning drills, the wins or the losses, or even the goals he scored during his youth hockey career.  Those are all important experiences of course, but most of all I want him to remember the fun he had and the friends he made, and I also hope he continues to try to become a better player and a better person…well, by now I’m sure you get the picture.

I do get it. Because while the calendar may disagree, I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I was the little kid in the giant helmet. Now I’m coming full circle, poised to become the dad in the window watching a new batch of giant helmets bobbing around the ice, slicing through puffs of warm breath in the cold air, and forming friendships and memories amidst squabbles over puck possession. Scott gives us all a glimpse into the journey that is watching your children grow, and reminds us all that the oft-difficult journey is a bit more palatable when shared in one’s own backyard.

Thanks Scott.

To read more about Scott and his rink, visit http://themillinfour-em.blogspot.com.  Scott also writes some incredible (non-hockey) fiction, but I’ll let him comment with that web address.

Have an image you’d like to share with the Backyard-Hockey community? Send it, and your narrative, to joe@backyard-hockey.com.

Wii NHL Slapshot Stick Accessory Available Separately (Eventually…I Think…In Certain Countries)

The sticks are now available! Find them at Amazon.com:

Last week saw the hockey gaming community abuzz with excitement surrounding the simultaneous release of EA Sports’s NHL 11 and NHL Slapshot titles, and 2k Sports’s NHL 2K11. Wanting to experience the outdoor hockey component of NHL Slapshot for the Wii, I scooped up the only copy left at my local Target early on September 7th. As advertised (and blogged), the game comes with both the disc and a hockey stick controller accessory, the latter being one of the coolest Wii accessories to hit the market. However, it seems that in EA’s pre-launch haste, they were unable to address a seemingly obvious need: that gamers would require more than one stick accessory to play with friends.

Of course he gets one -- he's Canadian

It seemed implausible that one of the world’s leading sports gaming companies would miss such an important step, particularly for a revolutionary game like NHL Slapshot. But the more I looked, the more it seemed like the stick only came with the game and not separately. Amazon didn’t have it. Best Buy didn’t have it. EB didn’t have it. And whomever runs EA’s NHL Twitter stream didn’t appear to realize that you could use your 140-character text blocks to respond to repeated questions from money-in-hand consumers (ahemcoughhack). I stopped looking late last week, annoyed that the attendees for the Saturday night party I was throwing would be relegated to playing semi-intoxicated Rock Band and not full-contact, lamp-shattering, semi-intoxicated Wii hockey. I wanted the Detroit Red Wings. I got Detroit Rock City. And it was as ugly as you can imagine.

Then today, thanks to an email from my buddy Jeff, the search is heating back up. He pointed me here, to an innocuous page on EA Sports’s NHL Slapshot site directing would-be stick purchasers to four separate retailers. Only problem? They’re all in Canada. I have no idea if they will ship to a foreign address, but really, EA? Your distribution model for one of the Wii’s breakthrough accessory items, and a must-have for multiplayer hockey action, is a single page with four links? Remind me never to let you make posters for my yard sales.

So I spent some time today to do more digging. Here’s what I found:

  • An employee at a local (US-based) GameStop who told me that they do not yet have the stick available separately. Apparently the manufacturer of the stick (not EA) does not yet have exclusive rights to sell the stick. The GameStop guy also told me that his EA rep didn’t know the name of this mysterious other company, nor did he know when they’d have the sticks in stock.
  • This page on the American version of Amazon.com showing a really cool “Team Canada” version of a Wii NHL Slapshot stick. Clearly this is not the same stick that comes packaged with the game, but it’s the closest approximation I’ve seen. It’s made by a company called ICON, and looks like it retails for $14.99. Only problem is it’s “Temporarily out of stock.”
  • Further googling (and another message from Jeff) uncovered these two items on Amazon.ca (here and here). The Team Canada stick is in stock in Canada, but the plain blue one is not. Both are made by ICON.
  • This ad on eBay for the Team Canada stick. Not surprisingly, the seller is based in Winnipeg.
  • Finally, this item on eBay. This looks very similar to the stick that comes with the game, and even has the EA logo on the packaging. It’s made by a company called SAKAR. This seller is based in Toronto.

So that’s where we’re at. More than a week after the release of one of the most anticipated sports games to hit the market, and those of us south of the border are left challenging the system AI. If you’re in Canada, congrats, you have several outlets at which you can purchase the stick accessory. But we Americans pining for a game of two-on-two will have to wait — or take a stab at Ebay. Is this an oversight due to the frenzy of pre-releases in today’s gaming world? A red-tape issue between megacorporations, with gamers playing the role of the victim? Or a more calculated kick in the shins of those of us who cried tears of sorrow when Crosby potted that overtime game-winner? Who knows. But c’mon EA: if you want your foray into the Wii hockey world to be realistic, we need to be able to slash each other in the back of the knees with your foam stick blade. Help us out!

**Update thanks to reader ‘Johngo': Best Buy has a mysterious new image-less NHL Slapshot stick for sale. Order at your own risk here.

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Sneak Peek: ‘Hockey In The USA’

Just a quick little update this morning to let you know about a very cool new documentary that will be coming out this fall. It is currently titled Hockey in the USA – Part I, and is the brainchild of New Jersey native Steve Chernoski. Chernoski, a school teacher, writer, filmmaker, and men’s league hockey player, released his first documentary, New Jersey: The Movie, in 2008. In his second offering, he takes to the country’s eastern seaboard in an attempt to gauge hockey’s Olympic-fueled rise to the mainstream consciousness. While Canada eventually captured both the men’s and women’s gold, the two weeks of American hockey fever surely created a legion of new hockey fans in the United States. Or did it?

The full plot summary:

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver marked a prime time for the sport of ice hockey in the USA. The Super Bowl was over. Spring Training and March Madness were still a month away: It was hockey’s time to shine in America. . . and shine it did.

The USA Men’s (and Women’s) team made it to the Gold Medal Game, only to lose to Canada. However, the ride was exhilarating and the men’s game was the second highest rated game in America EVER, only behind the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.”

But would this success galvanize interest in America? Would the premier professional league, the National Hockey League (NHL), see an increased awareness in the states?

In the new film, Hockey in the USA – Part I, follow director Steve Chernoski as he interviews Americans in the Northeast Corridor: from Washington, DC to Portland, Maine asking them the question, “What can hockey do to become more popular in America?”

Some of the highlights:

-See excitement increase as the Olympics games are played and the USA gets to the finals
-Listen to how Washington DC residents feel about the Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin
-Hear what a Canadian Embassy worker thinks can be done
-See the co-owner of the New Jersey Devils’ and learn about the team’s efforts with Newark youth hockey
-Learn about the complicated media markets of New York City and Boston
-Decide about hockey’s future on 3D TV from hearing the verdicts of people who watched a 3D hockey game
-Visit an American hotbed of hockey: Hershey, Pennsylvania

The film is currently in post-production, with a planned release date of Thanksgiving Day. The topic of hockey in the mainstream and the growth of the game is very important to me, so I’m working with Steve to bring you some more Hockey in the USA content leading up to the release date. I’m also excited to announce that you will  be able to view the documentary in its entirety on Backyard-Hockey.com once it is released.

For more information, be sure to ‘like’ the film’s page on Facebook and follow Steve on Twitter (@nsjersey). And please do your part to spread the word about this film by re-tweeting this post or sharing it on Facebook (or any of the other social media sites) below!

Reader Photos: Len Bruskiewitz

Our next reader photo submission comes from Len Bruskiewitz. Len is a Westford (MA) native, a father of two, and a fellow rinkbuilder. His image and commentary perfectly captures the little things that make backyard rinks such a fascinating and rewarding venture.

Len says:

The attached picture is of my son Kevin (who was 8 at the time) and was taken on 12/19/09 during the first skate of the 2009-2010 season. We filled the rink earlier that week and were blessed with an unbelievably cold few days which caused the ice to freeze fast and clear. Skating on the backyard rink always feels like floating on air but this picture reaffirms that feeling. It looks as if there is nothing between the bottom of the Tuuk blades and the liner.  My other favorite elements of the picture are the hockey stick in the foreground (this is clearly not a figure skater) and the snow-covered pants (from diving for loose pucks). The very next day, about 8 inches of slushy snow fell on the rink and the ice was cloudy for the rest of the season.

I speak from experience when I say that crystal clear ice is a neat, but often fleeting, experience. My first season, I filled my liner in the midst of a snowstorm. The snow chalked up the ice, and it remained white for the rest of the season. This past year, however, the ice was able to freeze completely without precipitation, allowing us to skate on a six-inch-thick sheet of perfectly clear ice. When you looked down past your skates, you could see the small folds in the liner, and, where I used a clear liner, the matted-down blades of grass underneath. Before long, the snow and the skate blade shavings reduce the downward visibility, and your crystal-clear ice is gone.

Thanks for sharing, Len.

To read more about Len and his rink, visit http://rinkrage.wordpress.com. Have an image you’d like to share with the Backyard-Hockey community? Send it, and your narrative, to joe@backyard-hockey.com.