December 31, 2008
(Ed. Note: The following column will run in the Winter Classic edition of the "Committed Indian," the uproarious "game program" produced in part by Second City Hockey. Thanks to the boys for letting us run it here on WC Eve.)
It's hard to improve on perfection. That's why there's no "Born to Run 2: Born Runner" or McDonald's waffle fries or another Katie Holmes nude scene after "The Gift."
The first two editions of the NHL's Winter Classic are, in the context of the League's many missteps, close to perfection: The Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby facing the Buffalo Sabres in a picturesque snow globe that attracted a huge television audience; and then the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks capturing casual fan attention again with a game in Wrigley Field.
Assuming the 2009 edition goes as planned, it'll be another success. But this is Gary Bettman's NHL we're talking about here; success is a fleeting endowment, a temporary euphoria. We can only assume, as puckheads, that they're going to find a way to screw this up.
So here are 10 ways to make the Winter Classic so ridiculously awesome that it's as close to Bettman-proof as one can get without the benefit of garlic and a stake:
Let the players be players on New Year's Eve. Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres told me that the players were expected to be "professional at all times" on Winter Classic Eve, despite it being the second-greatest party night of the year (behind Leafs Elimination Day). What a waste. Let the boys be boys, and at the very least you'd have a few guys still shaking off the whiskey haze during the game, pulling a Brophy from "Slap Shot" and begging guys not to throw'em against the boards for fear that they'd piss themselves. Or, if we're lucky, some player will stumble onto the ice two periods late wearing only a two-day stubble, women's underwear and a look that says the last 24 hours have been permanently wiped from his memory.
Saturate the sinners. If we're playing to the casual fans, then we need to keep the game as clean as possible; we're not going to trick a newbie into spending $85 for a lower bowl ticket if they discover NHL games are actually 60 minutes of holding, hugging and violent acts with lumber.
So if you're sent to the penalty box during the Winter Classic, you're going to learn your lesson by getting doused with a bucket of freezing cold water. And we're not talking a dribble here; we're talking a "You Can't Do That on Television" flood from the heavens. And that's how you get rid of obstruction, folks: with massive shrinkage and the threat of pneumonia.
Dress the goalies like Randy from "A Christmas Story." A perfect way to tie into holiday tradition, keep the goalies safe with extra padding and increase goal-scoring ... by dressing them in snowsuits that keep their arms suspended in the air at all times. Shoot ‘till their eyes are out, kids.
Instead of the shootout, ice ball throwing. The shootout might be a nice way to wrap up a pedestrian regular season game, but this is the Winter Classic we're talking about. So scrap the skills competition and decide a winner by seeing which team can take the most ice balls to the face without openly weeping. Not only because it harkens back to those halcyon days of misbehaving lads playing shinny on the pond, but because it has about as much to do with actual hockey as deciding the winner of a game with a shooter, a goalie, blind luck and no passing or defensemen involved.
Change the announcers. No disrespect to Doc Emrick and the rest of the NBC crew, but the Winter Classic demands a different approach. We nominate Dan Rather for the folksy clichés ("It's colder than Granny's stare with your hand caught in the cookie jar"); Barry Melrose for the hung-over pseudo-analysis and stylish Mafioso winter wear; and Denis Leary to call all the players wussies for either being cold and/or not hailing from the greater Boston area.
Get Dick Clark to sing "The Hockey Song" during the second period. OK, so he sounds like Tom Carvel nowadays. But the man IS New Year's, and we'd sure as hell take him over Ryan Seacrest. Then again, we'd take Def Leppard using the Stanley Cup as a urination trough over Ryan Seacrest, too.
Get the local NBA team's dance squad as ice girls. No offense to the talented lasses who shovel snow and toss T-shirts for the NHL, but the NBA probably still takes the award for best-looking in-arena eye candy.
So hire the local Spirit Explosion or Dance-gasm or whatever they're called, and put the basketball beauties to work as Winter Classic Ice Girls. Because there's nothing funnier than a hot broad falling on skates, and because sexy women plus icy temps equals ... well, just ask Letterman why his studio is always so cold.
Allow Tampa Bay Lightning owner Oren Koules to produce the game. There's no discernable defense from either team. Both coaches are fired 16 minutes into the Classic. And a creepy puppet keeps asking players if they'd like to play a game.
Finally, play the game at Vostok Station, Antarctica. The lowest reliably measured temperature on Earth was recorded there in 1983, at minus-128.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Average temperature: minus-85 degrees. Any other Winter Classic is just a Classic.