Thursday, 27 May 2010

Twice As Nice

It's taken a while to announce the upcoming outdoor games for the NHL in 2011, but it appears that we'll have two teams who have appeared in an outdoor game once already battling two teams who have not played outdoors. The best part is that there will be an outdoor game in Canada once again, albeit much later than the New Year's Day Winter Classic Game. However, beggars cannot be choosers, and I, at this point, am a beggar.

There's no doubt that the Heritage Classic game in Edmonton was a smashing hit on the north side of the border. Watching the old-timers from the Oilers and Canadiens get together for an amazing shinny game was worth the price of admission alone. However, the game that followed between the then-current Oilers and Canadiens brought forth some spectacular images. Jose Theodore's toque/mask combo is a lasting impression of that game.

Since that time, we've seen three more NHL outdoor games. The 2008 Winter Classic saw the Pittsburgh Penguins break out their powder blue throwback sweaters against the Buffalo Sabres in their original, and much better, logo. Ryan Miller followed Jose Theodore's lead by donning a toque for the event as well.

The event, held in Ralph Wilson Stadium, posed a few new problems the NHL had not yet experienced, but the fans loved it, and the falling snow combined with a shootout to end the game - a pond hockey and shinny tradition - made for a phenomenal New Year's Day in 2008.

The 2009 game saw a couple of old rivals bring back the history of old-time hockey as the Chicago Blackhawks hosted the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Both teams wore throwback jerseys, and Detroit's Mike Babcock even donned a fedora to give the old-time hockey game a more historic feel. The game was fast and physical, and the NHL had bottled some success on New Year's Day once again as the fans in Chicago really seemed to enjoy the outdoor game.

The 2010 Winter Classic moved to Boston, Massachusetts where the Bruins squared off against the Philadelphia Flyers at historic Fenway Park. The traditions continued in this game as Boston's Claude Julien donned the old-time headwear in the same fashion that Mike Bobcock did the year before. The Bruins wore some gorgeous yellow jerseys that should, in my view, become their alternates sooner than later. The Flyers wore a simple, yet immaculate, white jersey, and looked fantastic. Overall, the TV viewership was down, but the fans in Boston came out in full force and really enjoyed themselves.

This year, the NHL has decided to award the Winter Classic game to Pittsburgh where the Penguins will face their arch-rivals in the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field. The TV viewership should go up with these two teams renewing their rivalry, and the Crosby-Ovechkin showdown gets a major opportunity to ramp up the heat.

While some have said that this "force-feeding" of Crosby by NBC to the American TV viewer will take away the lustre of this game, I disagree. TV networks force-feed sports stars to the American public all the time. NBA games? Lebron or Kobe. NFL games? Manning or Favre. MLB games? Yankees or Red Sox. That's TV, people. It's not the NHL's doing. But the NHL needs its biggest stars in its marquee game to capitalize. There's the rub - big stars in the biggest regular season game is good for business.

The second outdoor game next season will be an all-Canadian affair in February as the Calgary Flames will host the Montreal Canadiens on February 20, 2011 at McMahon Stadium. This will only be the second outdoor game in the NHL's long history that will take place outdoors in Canada. You would think that, given the proper conditions for ice and cold in Canada during the majority of the season, more of these games would take place in the Great White North. But I digress.

If this is the start of having two outdoor games per season, I'm all for it. American TV ratings can have New Year's Day and the Winter Classic. It can be a new/continued tradition for American television and American hockey fans. That's cool with me.

Canadian hockey fans should be entitled to the Heritage Classic that features an all-Canadian match-up in February. All sorts of great games can be played: the Battle of Alberta, the Battle of Ontario, Montreal-Toronto, and Vancouver-Calgary are all games that could be staged for the next several Heritage Classic games. In case, you hadn't noticed, NHL, Canadians like hockey!

So there you have it: New Year's Day has the Capitals and Penguins battling in Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic, and February 20 has the Flames and Canadiens battling in Calgary in the Heritage Classic.

It just makes sense, doesn't it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Captain Canuck said...

good call on the date. We don't get snow here until just after xmas. It might actually be cold here by Feb 20.

although we did get a foot of snow here yesterday. my backyard is a winter wonderland.

mtjaws said...

Even though i'm a Penguins hater, and they have already played in the Winter Classic, it just makes sense for NBC to want this matchup of the two biggest stars at the moment. The Steelers' schedule in December gives the NHL enough time to create the ice, and I'll certainly watch again too.

It is nice to see the Canadian teams getting their own outdoor game too, because that will be nice to see. I'll assume NBC will air that too, but VS might luck out with it.

Once PIT and Washington get their moment in the spotlight, I hope other teams, get to play in this special game too. Like my Panthers!

Anonymous said...

I think the Canadian game actually coincides with 'Hockey Day in Canada', the yearly CBC ritual that features a triple-header of all 6 Canadian teams, usually in late February. Did they actually bestow the Heritage Classic name on this?

Teebz said...

February 20 is actually Hockey Day in America. The two Canadian teams will hold their outdoor game that day since CBC has no US TV rights.