December 31, 2008

The NHL gets something right

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

If there’s one annual event that the NHL does right, it’s not the Stanley Cup final (hockey in the summer?). It’s not the all-star “weekend” (a shootout “slam dunk” competition? seriously?) and it’s not their award show (although the prospect of holding it Vegas is pleasant). The one thing they get right is the Winter Classic.

Each sport has their day. And New Years day is quickly becoming the NHL’s. While Jan. 1 used to be ruled by college football — playing their most significant Bowl games on one glorious day — they’ve seemingly stepped out of the way to allow anyone to have the biggest hungover-sports-watching day of the year. It really makes no sense that they spread out their bowls and moved the big one to Jan. 8, about a month after the regular season ended.

But enough about the mind-boggling BCS, we’re talking about something rare, the NHL doing something right. The Winter Classic is special because it’s so unique. Even the casual sports fan will flip through channels, see some of recognizable names and jerseys playing outdoors and settle down for a while. Last year’s game in Buffalo was a spectacular draw because it not only featured Sidney Crosby. it featured the elements when snow started to fall. Now that’s hockey!

The scheduling gurus at the NHL head office were even smart enough to make this event the tail-end of a home-and-home between the two rivals. When you play back-to-back against the same team, tempers are more likely to boil and the level of play will rise for the best showcase game the league has.

There is a flaw in the game though and I think a lot of people should’ve noticed this by now. Playing at Wrigley Field is a nice idea, but have you seen how far away the crowds will be? There won’t be a good seat in the house! When the game was played the previous two times (plus when the NCAA tried an outdoor game), football stadiums hosted the event. That works out since a football field is roughly the same shape as a hockey rink — rectangular. Baseball fields, as we all should know, are not. Some poor schlub who ponyed up for a front row seat in the outfield isn’t going to be too happy when he can’t make out the players, not to mention the fact that the benches will be in his way too. I want to know why Montreal didn’t get this game for their 100th anniversary. Or at the very least put the game in Soldier Field.

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