by: Ricky Hajduk
In 2008, the NHL created a unique concept to help create more interest in the sport cherished by Canada. A unique idea that takes a historical trip to the days of pond hockey, the Winter Classic kicked off on New Year’s Day in 2008, as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Set for January 1st, 2014, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Detroit Red Wings in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the NHL’s Winter Classic.
Since then (with the exception of 2013 due to the NHL Lockout), the Winter Classic has become an annual event, pitting two teams against each under bright sunny skies and somewhat melting ice.
But now, as if to throw a whole new wrench into the situation, the NHL announced that it was finalizing plans to hold six – that’s right, SIX – outdoor games during the 2013-14 season. The Winter Classic would be held on New Year’s Day, after which the remaining five outdoor games would be played over the course of the rest of the season.
Despite being cancelled this past January, the Winter Classic will resume again in 2014 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI, home to the University of Michigan Wolverines’ football team. The Big House, which holds over 100,000 fans, will feature the Detroit Red Wings playing host to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Joining the Winter Classic will be the third installment of the Heritage Classic, an outdoor series between two Canadian teams. The Heritage Classic began in 2003, when the Montreal Canadiens edged past the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3. The Heritage Classic returned in 2011 in Calgary, Albert, Canada as the Calgary Flames shutout the Canadiens, 4-0. The 2014 Heritage Classic will be the first of the three to not include Montreal, as the Vancouver Canucks will host the Ottawa Senators.
The other five games include a back-to-back series for the New York Rangers, as they’ll take on the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders in late January at Yankee Stadium, a classic rivalry at Soldier Field as the Chicago Blackhawks will host the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a shocking “how-are-they-going-to-play-that” game at Dodger Stadium as the Los Angeles Kings will host the Anaheim Ducks in California’s first-ever outdoor NHL game.
As a little piece of bonus material below, please check out an original concept I created as a Winter Classic option for the New Jersey Devils. I’m a huge fan of team logos and jerseys, tapping into my creative side, and if any of you readers also share an interest I’d love to see some of your work.
Ricky’s original concept for the New Jersey Devils
Now, back to the story. In response to the recent news, there are really only two issues that come to mind:
First, while I appreciate the chances being taken by the NHL, six outdoor games may be way too many. The Winter Classic has become an icon for the NHL, a once-per-season game taking two long-standing NHL franchises and letting them battle it out under the lights as snow falls down onto the ice. It’s a spectacle, it’s enjoyable, and hey – it’s a little crazy. However, the Winter Classic can’t be overdone. By adding five more outdoor games, the NHL is taking it’s prized possession and turning it into a circus.
Second, and this might be the real obvious concern, really requires just one word: California? New York City is a terrific choice for an outdoor game, as is Vancouver, Detroit, and Chicago. But California? It will be a pure miracle if the final horn sounds and the Kings and Ducks are still playing ice hockey as opposed to water polo. The game is currently slated for January 25th, so let’s take a look at the temperatures in L.A. on those dates in the past two years: January 25th, 2012 featured an average temperature of 79 degrees in Los Angeles, while 2013 was a bit colder at a brisk 67 degrees. I love the enthusiasm, guys, but no.
As it is already, the NHL’s popularity amongst the Big Four sports in America is in the bottom half, and a failed outdoor game in California will lead to nothing more than the NHL become the official laughing stock of sports fans everywhere.