I am still revelling in the spectacle that was the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the Canadian junior team lost a heartbreaker Wednesday to the Russians, but that is not getting in my kitchen.
The great effort by the Canadians and gutsier game by the Russians should be an event that is long remembered in that tournament's history. But, I am not on that bandwagon.
The ride I am on is the one given by the NHL at Heinz Field last weekend.
It met every expectation that a hockey fan could have about this event. Don't bother with thoughts about the ice conditions. We all knew that was going to be an issue at one of these things. The positives were far more present.
1. The players were outstanding. This was not the perfect scenario under which to play a big regular-season game. Washington badly wanted to re-establish its presence as a formidable Eastern Conference power and the Penguins were hoping to put on a show for the hometown fans with a win over the hated Caps and Ovie.
But, there was the ice to deal with, particularly in the third period. It was tough sledding for everyone. Still, the Penguins zipped around it like they were on a fresh sheet in Edmonton. And the Caps played a great version of rope-a-dope. They took punches, but sucked it up in the end. I applaud their diligence. And their competitiveness.
Both teams showed how badly they wanted this one. It was most evident at the game's conclusion. Ovechkin, in particular, and his mates celebrated as if they had won a playoff round. I have a greater respect for both these teams after this game.
2. Great decision by the NHL bosses to postpone the game early on. Not an easy call. Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel was NBC's man on the scene and was in the thick of it. Imagine Jim the weatherman making the call on when the game would be played. No pressure, Jim. In the end, it wasn't perfect but the game got played.
The side benefit: the visuals at night were spectacular. The contrast of the stark white ice under the night sky was simply awesome. It actually puts the onus on the league to make a call on whether to move it to night or keep it in the afternoon.
3. The fans in the stands stayed 'til the end as they have for every Classic. Never saw merchandise stands as busy as they were last Saturday. And those that couldn't make
it apparently caught it NBC where ratings were sensational.
4. The NHL keeps improving this event. With every passing year the experience leads to better decision making about the event and all that surrounds it. Here's hoping that the Heritage Classic in Calgary keeps the momentum moving forward.
I don't know that the NHL is ever going to nudge into the consciousness of American sports fans like basketball or football or baseball, but I will say this: There has been no better vehicle, save the Olympics, to promote the game in the U.S. Take a bow all of you involved in Manhattan for now. Next week we will all be bashing you for something else you have done.
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