“Crashed Ice” is not a description of where the NHL stands at the moment. So if you’re not invested in the day-to-day rhetoric of the NHL’s failed labor talks, let me first congratulate you and direct your attention to another ice game, the Red Bull Crashed Ice series that gets back on its feet again for three days this week in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
For the uninitiated, the Crashed Ice racing concept is very simple. Take a fully suited hockey player, yank the stick out of his hands (the NHL has mastered that trick over the years), and drop him atop the steepest point of a roller coaster track. Then cover the track with a slick sheet of ice, put three other fully suited and totally homicidal racers up there, too, and send them off with a boisterous “Hi Ho, Silver!’’ as they barrel down and attempt to be the first to cover the length of the 1,510-foot track.
I know, you have doubts. But I am not kidding. Really. Every bit true.
OK, I may be stretching the part about “homicidal,” and some Internet sleuthing didn’t find anyone who ever actually hollered “Hi Ho Silver’’ in the 11-year history of the Red Bull Crashed Ice tour. Some of what has been said cannot be repeated here, in deference to a family audience and out of respect to hundreds of out-of-work hockey players who have earned the right to corner the market on swearing at the moment — “#@x%! straight!” I say.
Anyway, nothing complicated about Crashed Ice, and crowds seem to take to it like crushed ice to pina colada mix. The tour stops each year in Quebec City, where downtown crowds some years have reached a peak of 110,000.
Of course, that’s Canada, where even a 200-square-foot patch of ice in a backyard or barn’s shadow is guaranteed to attract a dozen hockey players and a crowd of at least 3,000. It’s all the more likely to bring huge numbers in Quebec, where the whole “no smoking” craze has yet to take full hold and viewers remain free to puff from sections labeled “smoking” and “chain smoking.”
In Niagara Falls, where the action begins Thursday, admission is free, same as all the Crashed Ice events. For those who want a really close view of the track, and a glance at the majestic falls themselves, there is a $32 charge to shoulder into a special viewing area.
I normally like to get very close. It connects me to the action. Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine told me years ago that his dad insisted he take in his first NHL game, a Blues game in St. Louis, from low in the stands, so he could internalize the speed, the sound of shots, the heavy hits and fights. To this day, LaFontaine credits that baptismal front-row dip as part of what set his career compass.
So, a word of warning: If you’re taking your kid to Crashed Ice this week, be apprised that standing up close to the track may trigger your son’s or daughter’s passion for a sport so out on the fringe that it makes the X Games look like lawn bowling. Crashed Ice racers, sometimes referred to as “riders,” or “wingnuts,” or “total whack jobs,’’ for the most part previously played hockey (another fringe sport) and they now spend their life chasing a trophy in an exercise that resembles bowling. The racers are the pins.
Hey, whatever. Just know that there are 200 entrants ready to rock ’n’ roll, and roll some more, this week, and probably that many or more who will pull on the skates and helmets, shoulder pads and knee pads, for tour stops in St. Paul, Lausanne (Switzerland), and Quebec City. There are niche sports and then there is Ice Crashing, or Crashed Icing, or whatever you want to call this odd mix of speed, human fender-bending, and demolition derbying sur glace.
“Imagine,’’ Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati told the Niagara Falls Review last week, “going down a roller coaster in skates!’’
Uh, Mr. Mayor, you know, sometimes imagination covers the whole experience just fine. I think this is one of those times. I can watch candlepin bowling and get the itch. Watching Crashed Ice sends me on a Google search for the American Orthopaedic Association of Sports Medicine (sportsmed.org).
Proud Canadian lad Kyle Croxall, a 24-year-old firefighter from Calgary, won the Crashed Ice world title last season. He’ll be in Niagara Falls this week, just down the highway from his hometown of Mississauga, on the Niagara Falls side of Toronto. With the NHL gone dormant, and Maple Leafs fans gone begging, ol’ Croxy ought to have one heck of a trackside cheering section. A firefighter as the fastest thing on ice. So many possibilities . . .
Croxall grew up rooting for rough-and-tumble Leafs forward Wendel Clark. Las Vegas on Saturday night was still calculating the over/under for total number of Labatt’s 12-ouncers to be consumed by the “Crash With Croxy’’ gang.
Crashed Ice has to bring its track to Boston. Another Red Bull series, Cliff Diving, has been to the Hub, twice sending ever-brave divers over the side of the Institute of Contemporary Art and into Boston Harbor. Red Bull has some real moxie when it comes to novel twists on sports we love. And with the game being twisted into knots right now, Crashed Ice may have to serve as your 2012-13 hockey fix.
I could see Crashed Ice in the Hub of Hockey. Totally. Just as in Quebec City, the track could be set up downtown, on the Common, at the front door of the State House. Hoist high that starting ramp to the top of the Golden Dome, line up skaters four across, and send those bravehearts steaming and careening across Beacon Street, hook a right toward Charles, loop back in the direction of Marlborough and set the finish line at the Make Way for Ducklings statues at the corner of the Public Garden.
It’s hockey season, and without the Bruins, maybe Crashed Ice and ducklings will have to do.