Monday, 18 February 2013

On Painted Ice

If you had to guess which team won the first Stanley Cup while being broadcast on television in color, the smart money would go on the Montreal Canadiens simply due to the vast number of Stanley Cups won in the 1960s and 1970s. Montreal did win the first Stanley Cup while bring broadcast in color television, and they did so in 1966 over the Detroit Red Wings in six games. What was unique in the 1966 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is that the American teams played on blue ice throughout the playoffs! As you know, "traditional" looks of ice in hockey played around the world is white as teams use white coloring to allow the puck to stand out.

The 1966 Stanley Cup Playoffs were unique in that it was the first broadcast in color television. Broadcasters forced NHL teams to do something very different from what they normally did in order to prevent oversaturation of the bright lights against the white ice. Oversaturation in white may cause the puck or the players in white uniforms to somewhat disappear on the television broadcasts, so NBC asked the American teams to change the ice surface color to blue to help the cameras out. The Montreal Canadiens reportedly started the season with blue ice to help with this oversaturation problem, but were back to using white ice shortly after the season had started. It sounds like the CBC figured out how to fix this problem early on.

Normally, you'd think that there would have been testing done ad nauseum on this, but you have to remember that this is the first time anyone in the USA had thought of taking cameras inside NHL arenas for color broadcasts. The technology and know-how to prevent this oversaturation probably hadn't even been considered when color television was introduced, and no other sports broadcast would have had to deal with a white background in real-life. Rather than fixing the technology, the solution of fixing the background was put in place The 1966 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs would be played on blue ice.

Because of the six-team format, the Rangers and Bruins would sit out the post-season in the NHL in 1966. The Montreal Canadiens would dispatch the Toronto Maple Leafs in a four-game sweep to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in the all-Canadian series. The Detroit Red Wings clipped the Chicago Black Hawks 4-2 in their series, setting up the Canadiens-Red Wings Stanley Cup Final. And in that final, we see the local television broadcaster using the color television technology to show off the Olympia's sky-blue ice.

It just doesn't look right, does it?

While the Blackhawks and Red Wings used blue ice in their series and Detroit started with blue ice, there had to be some sort of push back from the NHL because the ice appeared white during the Game Six overtime win by the Montreal Canadiens in securing their fourteenth Stanley Cup victory. There was one game in Montreal between the two Detroit games where the blue ice appeared and the Game Six loss, so why did the ice appear so white in the following clip?

If you look closely the ice and the boards are nearly the same color, and the ice near the end of the video is very bright white as the oversaturation kicks in on the video. Clearly, there had to have been white ice at the Detroit Olympia that night, meaning that the Detroit Olympia staff forgot to tint the ice while making it or NBC backed off their "blue ice" demand. In either case, it appears that the Canadiens won on white ice, making their Stanley Cup victory a little less unique than what could have been. Personally, it would have been cool to have had the Stanley Cup awarded on colored ice, but it was not to be in 1966.

Just for your own personal information, I have searched the vast repository of information known as the Internet and I cannot find any events that took place at the Detroit Olympia between May 2 and May 4. Game Four was played on May 1 in Detroit and the series was tied 2-2, so there was going to be a Game Six regardless of the outcome of Game Five, meaning that the crew at the Olympia and NBC had to know the series would need a minimum of six games. Game Six was played on May 5 and the video above shows white ice, meaning that it appears someone just said "forget it". Because of this, the blue ice only lasted two games in Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final, making it a simple footnote in the league's vast history.

I do want to throw out a "thank you" to Jerry Wolper who sent in this article about the blue ice to Uni Watch. Once again, the Uni Watch community has dug up some incredible information that has allowed me to head down the rabbit hole once more in search of blowing the lid off this topic. Thank you, Jerry, for reading through the old newspaper articles and finding this juicy tidbit of info!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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