Puck Daddy - NHL

We were going to toss this into the Puck Headlines, but after watching it a few times it definitely deserves its own post. The NHL Network Online has this Winter Classic commercial which debuted during Sunday Night Football on NBC last night. It's a winner.

The spot is scheduled to run on "NBC, RDS, VERSUS, NHL Network, regional broadcast carriers, NHL.com and other digital sites," with CBC joining the fun later this month. The NHL's Winter Classic push (with or without Obama) is in full swing, with billboards and banner ads saturating the marketplace in and out of Chicago.

The TV spot shows how much the NHL has learned in the last several years about its product and its fans.

Essentially, this commercial shares some of the basics from the much-maligned "metro-sexual samurai" ads that were expected to re-launch the NHL after the lockout -- players in the locker room, gearing up for battle.

The major, significant difference: The League is using actual players from the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks -- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and others -- rather than some soft-focus pretty boy actor. (OK, some of those guys are actually pretty boys in soft focus ... but you get the point.)

But the real impact comes with the audio: Harry Caray and his iconic version of "Take Me Out To the Ball Game," heard so often echoing through Wrigley.

A major failing for NHL marketing under Gary Bettman has been the NHL's inability to relate its product to causal, mainstream sports fans that pledge their allegiance to other sports.

It can't sell violence to football fans. It can't sell athletic artistry to basketball fans. But right here, the NHL connected baseball iconography to professional hockey in a way that says, "We're coming into one of your temples, and we're going to honor it with the same dedication to tradition, blue-collar ethics and entertainment that keeps you coming to the ballpark every season. Give us a shot."

The only thing missing is a pair of mittens holding some peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Bob Costas has the voice-over, so it appears he's back for another edition of the Classic on NBC. The only false note in the whole thing is the snow at the end; that's a promise the NHL would be wise not to attempt to make after last year's stunning aesthetics in Buffalo. That's hard to reproduce.

This Winter Classic ad combined with that Stanley Cup commercial has given us hope that the League might finally, after all this time, start to get it.

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