December 31, 2010
Is the Winter Classic a flawless enterprise? We'll answer a question with a question: Is it run by the NHL?
That said, the Winter Classic is awesome. Sure, there are the pessimists among us who bemoan the repetition of teams or the overexposure of stars or the saccharine over-romanticism of outdoor hockey. Yes, there is a creeping terror that this all going to be too much of a good thing, and outdoor hockey will feel about as distinctive as magnetic calendar night at the rink in a few years.
But for now, it still has that new gimmick smell and offers puckheads some singular charms every season on Jan. 1.
Here are 10 reasons why even a bunch of cynical bastards like us love the Winter Classic.
And here ... we ... go.
1. Goalie Masks
Goalie masks are like hockey cave drawings, telling a story about an individual or a team or, sometimes, an event. The Winter Classic offers an opportunity for creative designs like Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask's(notes) "bear with a bloodied and torn Yankees pinstriped jersey coming out of his mouth" mask from the Fenway Classic and Pittsburgh Penguins keeper Marc-Andre Fleury's(notes) mask for the 2011 game, pictured here via IN GOAL Magazine.
2. Gary Bettman as Vince McMahon
One of the reasons the Winter Classic is a perfect television event fpr NBC is because the NHL can make the main event whatever they darn well please. They want Capitals/Penguins, we're going to get Capitals/Penguins. There's always going to be some compelling matchup in this game. Despite all the tin-foil hatting over the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the fact is that there's always a chance for an Anaheim/Ottawa championship round. There is zero chance there will ever be an Anaheim/Ottawa Winter Classic.
3. Amateur Meteorology
Cold enough? Too much
precipitation? What if they have to cancel it?!
It happens every year, but especially this year: Fans fire up the Weather Channel, drop in a zip code, and start obsessing over the 10-day forecast for the Winter Classic. We become a hockey nation of Al Rokers, without the stomach that's been surgically altered to the size of a walnut.
4. The Coaches-Wear
The Wrigley Classic gave us our first real sense of coaches' style, via Detroit Red Wings Mike Babcock's varsity jacket-meets-Western-villain garb. Claude Julien upped the ante with the classic Classic fedora in 2010. What does Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau have in mind for his Winter Classic garb? Take a look:
5. Dan Craig, Ice Ninja
Every year, the NHL's ice-making guru gets more press around the holidays than mall traffic and drunk Santas, and rightfully so. His crew works tirelessly and around the clock to not only make the ice for the Classic but to make it as safe as possible considering (a) the elements and (b) the investments-on-skates that will be featured in the game. And they pull it off every time, thanks to Craig saying things like, "We're ready to make this thing look like a piece of art."
6. A New Set of Firsts
The NHL was founded in 1917. Anything that happens statistically in a regular season or playoff game has typically happened before; in the sense that more records are broken than established.
With the Capitals and Penguins in this year's game, what are the chances we get our first Winter Classic hat trick? Weather permitting, of course.
7. The Non-Hockey Fan Impact
If you asked 100 NBA fans where this season's NHL All-Star Game will be played ... well, we all know how that'd turn out.
But ask the same group about where the Winter Classic is on Jan. 1, and we'll wager that a huge portion would know the location.
The fact is that while it may not always translate into ratings or continued support of the NHL, the casual sports fan is aware of the Classic and sorta digs it. It's something we, as hockey fans, can be proud of: a gimmick that manages to add a sense of spectacle and hipness to our game. And the fact that this event was able to get the NHL on HBO only magnifies its crossover appeal.
8. Winter Classic Jersey Fouls
The Winter Classic Jersey Foul has appeared as a venue-specific one (FENWAY 10, for example) or as a player-specific tribute. Last season saw Bobby Orr Boston Bruins sweaters from the Classic; as you see from Puck Buddy Michael Fedor, there are already Mario Lemieux Penguins sweaters from this year's game.
So the question becomes: Should there be some kind of exception for venue tributes or player jerseys for guys that are "part" of the Winter Classic that year but not actually suiting up for it? (Keeping in mind that Mario did not wear this sweater in today's alumni game.)
Speaking of debates ...
9. The Venue Debates
The Winter Classic's present and future locations are the hottest of hot buttons for puckheads because we all have our favorite venues and matchups. Should the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild face off in the State of Hockey? Where should the New York Rangers get their Classic? And if Dan Craig, Ice Ninja can make ice up to 60 degrees ... well, when do we get this game in the Rose Bowl?
Because really, no matter where they put the game, it's all about ...
10. The Scenery
Do they have a Winter Classic calendar yet? Because we could look at this [expletive] all year: