|The NHL's Guardian Project|
So what does the NHL’s Guardian Project have to do with fantasy hockey, you ask? Well, there are a few reasons for the relationship and every one of them is a stretch. But bear with me.
When I was 11 until about 15 I collected comics. Mostly Marvel, which meant mostly Stan Lee. So when I first heard about the Guardian Project, I was pretty interested. After seeing the first few heroes released, the excitement grew. I couldn’t believe all the negative press that the project got in the blogosphere. These bloggers, generally men in their 30s, laughed it off. But they didn’t – and still don’t – see what I’m seeing. A brilliant effort by the league to bring in new eyeballs. And I don’t mean attract the 40-year-old football fan. I mean get the fan before he (or she) is at an age where they have fully decided upon their sport. Age 9-14.
Fantasy hockey is another method of bringing in new fans. If you join a hockey pool and you don’t watch hockey, then you find yourself watching the odd game. If you’re a casual fan who watches six or eight games a year, if you join a hockey pool then you find by season’s end you have watched 15 or 20. This is a statistical fact, based on a recent study (albeit on the NFL) in the United States.
Fantasy hockey is a growing industry, and bringing in new young fans is very much in my best interest. So for that reason, and because Stan Lee is an icon, I want on board. Let me help you understand this project. I spoke with Mark Schultz of the NHL and Adam Baratta of Guardian Media Entertainment and gathered all the information I could.
This thing goes deep. The idea was not just about drawing cool pictures. These characters each have extensive backgrounds, the storyline has a running plot and absolutely a future. They won’t disappear after the All-Star game. In fact, Schultz mentioned the “Pro Stars” cartoon from the 80’s (remember Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson?) a couple of times, indicating that the league hopes for a regular comic book series and a weekly cartoon.
They don’t expect a 36-year-old blogger, or a 46-year-old print journalist to get it. They want the characters to be cool enough to attract ongoing attention from the younger generation. It’s about brand recognition. Ask 1000 random 10-year-old boys what a Nashville Predator is and 999 will give you blank stares. If this project succeeds as the NHL hopes, then 200 or 300 will answer that question in a few weeks.
There has been a lot of criticism from bloggers about these characters stealing traits and/or appearance from heroes already invented. That’s true. In fact, it’s blatantly obvious. But ridiculing it is like ridiculing the sky for being blue. Because the fact of the matter is – in the comic book world, all looks and special powers have been done three times over. Of course you’ll find similarities in every one of these heroes. Also consider the fact that the Guardian Project was very limited in what they could with each character. They couldn’t very well make the Shark a hero who flies through the air, shoots fire, and wears a yellow uniform could they? So I do laugh when the bloggers make a joke about how the latest guardian looks like a cross between Hero A and Hero B. But I’m laughing at them and not with them. Because it’s so completely lost on them. For those not as familiar with classic heroes, I'll do my best to give you some comparables. Not to ridicule, but to inform. As I said, all of the permutations and combinations of powers, weaponry, armor, uniforms, colors and attributes have been used up - now all that can be done - well, mostly - is to mix and match.
I’m not saying that this project is a slam-dunk success. In fact, I think the odds are against it getting a big foothold and making a big splash within 365 days, when you consider how tough the market is out there. But I love the initiative and it absolutely has a chance of accomplishing its goal eventually. Which is all anyone can ask. If they only manage to hook a few hundred youngsters on the game, then that’s a few hundred more than they had before. And those few hundred have a few hundred friends…and so on. Add to the fact that these kids may not have another sporting option over the next couple of years with looming lockouts in the other big leagues, and the timing for this is perfect.
I encourage you to get your kids to vote on the Facebook campaign (a million strong and counting) and show them this column (which further ties into my goal of growing fantasy hockey!), as I’ll do my best to explain the heroes one by one (I’ll add to this as they get announced). On page two, some quotes and more information from my conversation with Baratta.
Here is the lowdown on the characters so far:
Attributes: Marine trained; calm; tough as nails; futuristic bio-suit helmet allows for breathing underwater; boots allow for water gliding at high speeds; bio-suit wings allow for short bursts of flight - what this all means is, he is the only Guardian without super powers, but his wealth sets him up with cool gear ala "Batman"
Comparables: Batman, but in the water.
Story: hails from a rich family. Personality very similar to Bruce Wayne. But his suit/gadgets all relate to the water.
Attributes: The fastest Guardian (five times the speed of sound); can fly; possesses hand cannons, mini-cruise missiles;
Comparables: The Flash (speed), Angel/Archangel, Iron Man's weaponry. But all of this is a stretch, it's fairly original with bits of unoriginal slapped together.
Attributes: Intelligent, quick, uncanny sense of smell, elite tracker, and his roar freezes opponents with fear.
Comparable: If he was blue he would look similar to Beast. Some attributes similar to Wolverine.
Story: A "big kid" who is actually very mild mannered - but only when his belly is full. I guess a possible running side joke will be his need to always eat.
Attributes: Body completely comprised of water. The hydro-suit gives him the ability to control his appearance, though he often chooses "human". He can be liquid, solid or gaseous as needed.
Comparable: powers remind us a little of Iceman. The look reminds us of Silver Surfer.
Story: a scientist (hydro-engineering), and the product of an experiment gone wrong.
Attributes: Resistant to heat, pyrokinesis, hands can launch fireballs, eyes can focus flaming lasers that can pierce bulletproof glass, wings made of flames allow for flight.
Comparable: The Human Torch, Angel, Cyclops, the Phoenix, Pyro
Story: By day he's a Calgary politician who enjoys hockey (duh) and skiing.
More Guardians, as well as my conversation with Baratta next page...