The Winter Classic is not only a classic, it is a gem of a game, and a tremendous way for hockey to trumpet its virtues, return to its roots, and introduce itself to new customers. Along with the HBO “24/7” series as a terrific buildup, it has become a real tradition for the sport.
This year, the Winter Classic got all of those things and more in one afternoon in front of 46,967 fans at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and an NBC/CBC television audience. In one write-up of the game, Larry Brooks of the New York Post called it the “Greatest Spectacle on Ice,” and I think that’s a great name, given its reference to another event that I particularly enjoy: the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Indianapolis 500.
There was no snowstorm this year, but there were plenty of fireworks on the ice between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers that threw everything that was compelling about hockey into the extravaganza. Oh, yes, in this day and age of “3-2 Hockey,” we got a 3-2 final in regulation favoring the visitors from Madison Square Garden.
How did the Sharks’ travel group enjoy the game? The answer was, “in spurts.” My own experience was watching the beginning on TV in my hotel room as I prepared for my own broadcast of the Sharks and the Canucks. It continued in the lobby of the hotel, where a group of enthusiastic young ladies wearing Canucks jerseys asked me if I worked at the hotel and if I could change the channel of a lobby monitor to the Winter Classic. I don’t work at the hotel, but I changed the channel for them.
I was able to continue with radio coverage of the game using modern technology (radio on hand held device) on the ride to Rogers Arena, and then picked up both CBC and NBC coverage from the broadcast booth. But my attention was more on the Sharks and Canucks than the Rangers and Flyers.
Still, we got enough out of the game to enjoy its most interesting aspects: the Bobrovsky-Bryzgalov fireworks in the leadup to the game; the fact that Jaromir Jagr wasn’t able to play the whole game; the return of Marc Staal to 13-plus minutes of action; the beautiful goal by Claude Giroux; the two tallies by Michael Rupp; the sequence of events that led to no penalty shot for the Rangers, a penalty on Ryan Callahan, a penalty shot for Danny Briere, a great save by Henrik “the King” Lundqvist, and the comments by coach John Tortorella about the officiating after the game; the classy job done by the Flyers and the NHL to put the game on; the hat tips to tradition; and the overall coverage of the event.
The nightcap was the Sharks-Canucks matchup, which was the inaugural game on the newly-branded NBC Sports Net. That gave us a corresponding local broadcast exclusivity on KFOX and the Sharks Radio Network (thanks for listening!). What we got was another classic game, with great follow-up from the December 28th matchup at HP Pavilion, and another 3-2 final, with Michal Handzus
getting the game-deciding goal in the shootout.Listen: Sharks vs. Vancouver - Jan 2, 2012
So, in San Jose’s first trip to Vancouver since the heartbreaking finish in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Final, they found a way to get the reward they’ve been looking for. They know that they can play with the Canucks, and now they know that they can come out of a game with them with a well-earned two points. It was a great start to 2012.
Now, the focus shifts to another team that has given the Sharks some peculiar trouble this season. The Anaheim Ducks have really struggled against everyone except San Jose. Believe it or not, Duck Hockey is 3-0-0 against the Sharks this season, with a 1-0 loss on October 14th at the Honda Center, a 3-2 loss at HP Pavilion on October 17th, and a 3-2 loss at HP Pavilion on Boxing Day.
Since the Ducks are off to such a poor start, they have changed coaches, and brought former Washington Capitals bench boss Bruce Boudreau to Orange County to right the ship. However, since beating San Jose on December 26th, the Ducks have lost twice: 5-2 to Vancouver and 4-2 to Colorado, both at the Honda Center.
Holding a 3-8-2 record since Boudreau took over, Anaheim is in the midst of a season-high 6-game homestand. They’ll be loaded for bear in Wednesday night’s game. The Sharks will also be highly motivated, given their recent 5-1-1 swing and their great victory at Vancouver.
Of course, there are always interesting sidebars, and here is one that has been brought into the series by virtue of Anaheim’s coaching change: Sharks coach Todd McLellan and Boudreau shared a home when the two were teammates with the Springfield Indians of the AHL.
It just so happens that, thanks to my friend Ernie Fitzsimmons, the greatest accumulator of hockey photos that I know of, we’ve turned up a couple of photos of the two coaches wearing Springfield uniforms. I thought you’d enjoy seeing them here, but make sure you’re listening to a recording of Bill Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” the old theme of the Springfield AHL club, as you take this walk down Memory Lane:
|Bruce Boudreau (left) and Todd McLellan (right) were teammates for the Springfield Indians of the AHL. |