DETROIT – OK. I have to talk about outdoor hockey games -- usually, I love them -- “It’s how the game was meant to be played,” as they say.
I agree. Pond hockey, lake hockey, or even little rinks made in front and back yards are AWESOME. Snow falling, maybe a bucket or something make-shift as the goals, it doesn’t get any better. BUT, I have to say it. I think the NHL is doing this outdoor hockey game model too much.
The very first Winter Classic in 2008 was great: Penguins and Sabres. It was novel. It was something not seen before. It was a way to showcase a sport that doesn’t get as much reach as the other professional sports. That game was exciting and it ended with the biggest star in the sport scoring in the shootout for the win. Perfect.
I think the subsequent Winter Classics have also been pretty great. Like, 2009, when the Red Wings faced off with the hated Blackhawks at Wrigley Field. That was the first time we all found out a baseball stadium is pretty good at hosting a hockey game. Wings scored five unanswered goals in the game for the come-from-behind victory. Wings fans must have loved going out to Chicago bars in Wings gear that night! I also think the 2014 Winter Classic inside the Big House was epic. It was snowing that day too. Toronto fans came out in force as did Wings fans and they all set a record for attendance at 105,491. While that game ended in a shootout loss for the Wings, it was a game and an experience no one will ever forget.
But, I just think the NHL is going to that well too much. They should take the game outside ONCE a year. Keep it special. Adding these “Stadium Series” games on top of the Winter Classic every year dilutes the product. It makes all of it less special.
I say, stick to the Winter Classic. The “OG” game. Eliminate the Stadium Series. Then, once a year, pick teams that have a natural rivalry and places that make going to these games and watching it on TV special. I hope Gary Bettman is listening.