Last spring, we may have experienced the longest absence of hockey. Without the hockey season, baseball and football seemed to carry on long past their respective seasons ended.

Hockey fans were constantly reminded of the Boston Red Sox’s amazing comeback and the New England Patriot’s second consecutive Super Bowl. However, something was missing in all of the recaps – by the time summer hit, the reality of the strike was apparent.

Hockey was painfully absent from television and the minds of fans. The buffer between football and baseball was hopelessly lost.

For some time, it felt like the Tampa Bay Lightning would be the last team to win the beloved Stanley Cup. Hockey was gone for the time being, but not forgotten.

After a year’s hiatus, the National Hockey League skated back to center ice on Oct. 5.

Unfortunately, the hockey that returned this season is not the same hockey played a year ago.

The rules have changed. First of all, the goalie suffers a decrease in the size of the gear he can use. As a result, the goalie’s skills will be exploited by opponents who are eager to win games.

However, this does not in any way mean that goalie skills were not required before. Technical ability will simply become more important.

Goalies like Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars and Dominik Hasek of the Ottawa Senators will be forced to step up their already outstanding goalie performances.

It may not seem like much, but an 11 percent reduction in the allotted gear – such as pads and gloves – leaves much more room, approximately an additional one-inch, for the puck to get through.

Another significant change in the rules affects overtime. To avoid last year’s ties, the length of overtime has been decreased.

First, if the game is tied in normal game play, teams will go into a five-minute overtime. After the overtime, if the tie still exists, three players from each team will take a shot.

The team with the most goals after the shootout wins. If the shootout fails to break the tie, the teams will go into a sudden death shootout.

Previously, the most annoying rules seemed to incessantly pause the games, such as the two-line pass. Two-line passing consists of the puck crossing two of the three center lines during a pass. This year, the two-line pass is legal.

Another annoying rule concerned offsides. While the offsides rule is still in effect, players are given a chance to correct an offsides call. If the player precedes the puck across the line – he is now allowed to tag the blue line, this is now called the tag-up rule.

There are also new rules for player-to-player interaction.Hockey is known for fighting. This season, however, fighting will be toned down.

During the last five minutes of the game, any player who instigates a fight will receive a game misconduct – which results in leaving the ice for the rest of the game – and an automatic one game suspension.

The coach will also receive a $10,000 fine. The fines will double for each subsequent infraction. The fighting may be what many fans come to the games to see, but it is not what the game is about.

Sportsmanship is also tested under the new rules. A league committee will review players who overreact or fake an injury in order to draw penalties. After the first warning, fines will be issued. A fourth violation will result in a one-game suspension.

Hockey left America for a year, but it is back, stronger than ever before. As the NHL approaches the new year, fans have something to look forward to in the long stretch of spring.

This year, hockey fans will not have to bear the constant rambling of all those White Sox fans because this year the Stanley Cup will exchange hands once again and carry on a long-standing tradition that had lasted 112 years.

Woods can be reached at

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