Why the NHL Winter Classic is Absolutely Awesome
I’m writing this draft during the first intermission of the 2014 NHL Winter Classic. I’m sitting at my favorite watering hole, Buffalo Wings and Rings, and contemplating how awesome this event really is. Even if you aren’t a rabid hockey fan, you need to recognize how spectacular the Winter Classic really is.
The NHL Winter Classic got its start in 2008 and has been held every year since, except the 2012/2013 season due to the NHL lockout (which sucked by the way). The concept is simple; take hockey back to its roots on the frozen ponds and homemade rinks of many players’ early years. Typically held in MLB or NFL stadiums, the NHL Winter Classic draws huge crowds for an event like no other in professional sports.
While other sports continue to try and draw fans and newcomers with special events, the Winter Classic cannot be beat and here’s why.
A game that is held in indoor stadiums is suddenly thrust outside. Weather obviously becomes a huge element to the game and we’ll talk about that in a minute, but just being outside brings its own set of difficulties. Players, used to indoor play, suddenly have to consider things like the sun in their eyes and the speed of the wind. With the new location, attendance is able to skyrocket. The Bell Centre, home to the Montreal Canadiens, is the largest arena in the NHL with a capacity of 21,273. This Winter Classic had an attendance of 105,491! That’s an attendance record for NHL hockey.
The elements were out in full force for this game. It snowed the entire time and the temperature was a balmy 13 degrees…with a wind chill that sent it down to -1. That alone would make the game tough enough, but the wind was kicking up as well, forcing officials to switch the teams’ sides, so that no one could claim a disadvantage to playing into the wind. The snow accumulating on the ice made passing and shooting very difficult and you could see the players struggling to hit the puck hard enough to get it to plow through the tiny drifts all over the ice surface.
It’s Not An Exhibition
With all the difficulties of playing, you might think the NHL would set up a game like this as an exhibition, but they do not. It’s a real game, for real points. This year’s Winter Classic pitted two Atlantic Division teams who were neck and neck for the season. One slip up and suddenly you’ll find yourself losing ground in the race to the Cup. In the end, Toronto beat Detroit in a shootout, giving the Leafs 2 points and the Red Wings 1 point. It’s a hard enough game as it is, but with all the new variables thrown in with an outdoor game, a team could quickly find the tables turned.
It’s an Event
Of course the NHL isn’t stupid (well, sometimes I would argue that they are), so they pull out all the stops to make this not just a game, but an event to remember. I had several friends that went and they can’t stop talking about it. It’s certainly something I want to experience based on how excited I get just watching it on TV.
The NHL has hit a homerun (please excuse the mixed metaphor) with the Winter Classic and I hope it will be an event that will continue to draw new fans to my favorite sport. I’ve heard a rumor that 2015 might be the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Washington Capitals and if that’s the case, I may just have to make the trek.
image courtesy of GoonSquadSarah…sadly I couldn’t find any good photos from the 2014 Winter Classic, so I had to use this one