“The one major event that the NHL can fully brag their success is the 'NHL Winter Classic'." Claiming New Year’s as their own, the NHL’s outdoor spectacular is popular fans and non-fans alike.
It takes the game back to its roots, taking it outside into the snow and ice. Anyone who grew up in America’s Midwest and North can tell you the emotions of the winter season. It’s a harsh environment to play in but it can be so fun. Playing outside in the winter was fun for many reasons…snowball fights, snowmen, sled rides, and making snow angels. Right up there is skating on a frozen pond. Some of my fondest memories were getting new skates and sticks on Christmas morning then getting the neighborhood kids to play a big outdoor game on Christmas afternoon. We’d play for hours with snow banks in place of boards and homemade nets the target for goals.
The Winter Classic is a one of a kind event. Or should I say, was a one of a kind. This winter will find 5 NHL games scheduled outdoors. On New Year’s day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, upwards of 110,000 fans will jam into “The Big House.” Michigan Stadium is the venue where the University of Michigan Wolverines play NCAA football. Original 6 clubs, the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs will add another chapter to their long-time rivalry that day. It will set an all-time hockey attendance record.
There will be a second rink at the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park in Motown. This will be the site for a Red Wings, Maple Leafs Alumni game, as well as hosting college hockey, junior, and minor league games during the NHL’s hockey festival. It should be a lot of fun everyone, whether attending in person or watching from home.
Four other NHL games are scheduled. The Kings and Ducks will meet at Dodger Stadium on January 25th. This will be a big test building a rink with good ice in a warm weather climate. If it is a success you may see outdoor games in Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Northern California in the coming seasons.
Yankee Stadium will be the site for two games in the Big Apple. The Rangers and Devils square off on January 26th. Three days later, the Rangers will square off against their rival NY Islanders. I’m sure the setting will be stunning. It’s hockey in the House that Ruth Built.
On March 1st, Chicago gets into the act. The Blackhawks will host the Penguins at historic Soldier Field. The very next day BC Place will stage the Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks game.
Is this too much too soon? Perhaps. Is the NHL watering down a signature event? Maybe. But equally important is that more fans at more outdoor events with more viewers is good for hockey and good for the NHL. Stretching these events into more venues could be tempting the gods of weather. What if the ice is unplayable in Southern California? What if the winds are too strong in Chicago? What if it rains in Vancouver? All are valid questions and if so, the NHL outdoor brand could be damaged. Let’s hope the weather cooperates and that fans and non-fans have the appetite for more than just the New Year’s game. I, for one, am looking forward to these events.