BOSTON -- It used to be reasoned that nothing could sink the ratings for college bowl games on New Year's Day. Then the NHL came along with the Winter Classic in 2008 and the landscape began to change.
More than 5 million Americans tuned into NBC this past Jan. 1 to watch the Chicago Blackhawks skate against the Detroit Red Wings in an Original Six matchup at Wrigley Field. This coming winter, with the famous Green Monster as the backdrop, the NHL expects its foothold on New Year's Day to grow even stronger with the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic
The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, two teams that evoke images of old-time, blue-collar, lunch-pail hockey, will take the stage on NBC at 1 p.m. ET on Jan. 1 – much to the delight of a proud NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
"(The Winter Classic) is unique, but it goes to the very essence and roots of our game," Bettman told NHL.com. "While it's a special, exciting event, at the same time it takes the game back to its origins and it captures your imagination. It captures the imagination of the fans an d it also captures the imagination of the players, many if not most of whom learned to play hockey outside."
Asked how the NHL could possibly top the magical show it put on last season at Wrigley Field -- an event that somehow managed to out-do the 2008 Winter Classic that was played amid blizzard-like conditions near Buffalo -- Bettman seemed quite confident that it could be done.
"Each one is a little different," he said. "We started in a football stadium in Buffalo and that was special. We went to an iconic stadium in Wrigley, and we're coming to perhaps the oldest stadium that is iconic in its own right. I think the location and the fan base all goes into it, coupled with the fact that we're going to do some ancillary events to add to it. The notion that people are going to be able to come here and skate, I think, is going to add to the allure of the overall event.
"No matter which team you root for, we can focus all of our fans' attentions on this game. We have managed to capture the day."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org