NHL hits a home run with the Winter Classic
Wednesday, January 2, 2008 | 11:07 AM ET
Was yesterday's Winter Classic at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium a home run for the NHL? Well, it's about as close as the league has come to one in the last little while.
Around 72,000 fans took in the game, which the Pittsburgh Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout over the Sabres, but yesterday was not really about the points at stake. It was a great marketing initiative by a league starved for attention stateside. This wasn't lame gladiator-style commercials, it wasn't glowing pucks, it wasn't celebrity endorsements and testimonials - this was hockey on display in all of it's original glory.
The great outdoors.
And sure, I could be as cynical as some and say the game wasn't good because it was played at 85 per cent speed due to the ice conditions. I could point to all the show on the rink as hurting the flow of the game. The stoppages for rink repair and ice scraping killed the pace and slowed up the event.
But who cares?
Sure, it wasn't the best game we'll see all year but we knew that going in.
Sure, this wasn't going to be as quick a game as if it were played at HSBC Arena, but was that a surprise to anyone?
Look, the opening shot of the snow falling as the players took to the ice is an image I, and many more, will never forget. Did it distract the players? Perhaps (Darryl Sydor took his visor off because of all the snow and frozen rain) but let's not just look at this from a players' point of view. This was an event for the fans and so far I haven't heard anyone complain or grumble.
And considering how many factors that directly affect the outcome of the game were out of the hands of both the Penguins and Sabres, I think both teams should be applauded. It's tight in the Eastern Conference with every point crucial and it wouldn't surprise me to see either of these teams miss the playoffs by a single point.
The Pens and Sabres risked their playoffs (to say nothing of the gate receipts that come along with it) for "the good of the game." And how often did we hear that phrase bandied about during the lockout? Doing what is "good for the game" and normally when decisions are made that teams vote or make decisions based on what is good for them (e.g New Jersey was against amending the schedule which would make allowances for more inter-conference play because they enjoy a very light travel schedule) and the betterment of the sport itself gets thrown out the window.
But not yesterday.
And in some ways this will go down in history as being all about the storybook ending provided by Sidney Crosby and his charge to the net that led to the first goal of the game and then as we've all seen over and over again by now (and will go down as one of the most significant plays of the year) Crosby deked out Ryan Miller, slipped it between his pads in the shootout to put it away for the Pens.
Don't think for one second that NBC wasn't thrilled at how perfect that ending was. Further, it was a bad event for people who aren't fans of the shootout as I'm sure just about every NBC executive who watched that final are more in support of the shootout than ever before (and don't be surprised if one day the conversation is had about using the shootout in the playoffs to satisfy TV issues, but that's for another day).
So, considering how much a success this game was the question now is should it become an annual tradition?
I don't know. Tough one.
My heart says yes, my head says otherwise.
There are few unmitigated successes the NHL has enjoyed post-lockout so perhaps it should become a yearly New Years benchmark. It attracts audience (both hockey fans and "casual" fans) and revenue, something the league needs desperately, but I do worry about how special the event will be if it becomes an annual event.
Make it special. Yesterday was exceptional because we don't see it every year. This was an event in its truest sense. It seemed special and I fear if this becomes as regular as the All Star "game" it will lose some of it's shine.
What do you think? Do you want to see the Winter Classic every year or every four or five?
On today's edition of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio (ch. 122 on Sirius at 4 p.m. ET), Cassie Campbell will once again, join me as co-host. We talk to the man who kicked off the scoring in yesterday's Winter Classic, Colby Armstrong, and we'll also talk to Maple Leafs goalie Scott Clemmensen and Los Angeles Kings centre Patrick O'Sullivan.
We'll also have a full rundown and analysis of today's Canada vs. Finland quarter-final game at the world junior championship in the Czech Republic. We'll talk to Canadian defenceman Steven Stamkos about his experiences in the Czech Republic thus far.
And sports business columnist Rick Westhead drops by to talk about the often-nasty world of hockey agents.
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About the Author
Jeff Marek, one of sports talk radio's brightest stars, is the host of the all-new HNIC Radio on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. A twelve-year sports-talk radio veteran, the Toronto native provides intelligent hockey talk, insight and debate during the two-hour national daily drive-time hockey program.
Well known for his previous work on Leafs Lunch on AM 640 Toronto Radio, Marek is one of sports talk radio's most respected personalities. He joined AM 640 in 2000, hosting The Jeff Marek Show, a nightly open-line talk show, while working as the stations' morning news anchor. He quickly became the director of sports news and joined host Bill Watters on Leafs Lunch.
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- Friday, December 28, 2007
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