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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: A Bittersweet Winter Classic: Where Does the NHL Go From Here?

01/05/2009 11:26 AM -

 By Chad Huebner

Another year of having the Winter Classic, and another year of me missing an opportunity to do a running commentary on the game. Sorry about that, but hey, I’ll bet many of you had a hard time dragging your drunken arses out of bed to watch the ‘Hawks-Red Wings game (Happy Holidays and New Year, by the way, it’s been awhile since you’ve seen me). And in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t write a running commentary because the ending would’ve been very disappointing.

In a way, I’m not surprised how things turned out. Ever since the NHL announced that Chicago would be the sight of the league’s third regular-season outdoor game, it’s been nothing but hype and hoopla surrounding the young ‘Hawks, in addition to all the hype and hoopla surrounding the team after a promising season last year.

(Plus, did I fail to mention that we were taking on the defending Stanley Cup champs? Sure, it was a logical pick to have Detroit play against Chicago, but on an emotional level, the Redwings scare me. With their red and white unis, don’t they remind you of the great Soviet teams of the 70s and 80s? They’re perfect hockey machines: skate-pass-score. They win more often than they lose (thanks, Captain Obvious!). They’ve never been out of a game, even before “The New NHL era” got cranked up in 2005. Really, we were nuts to be going up against this team in one of the biggest games in ‘Hawks history. Are you telling me the St. Louis Blues didn’t have anything better to do that particular day?)

All that pressure had to be affecting the team, even though they came out shooting the puck every chance they got, and hitting everything that had a white jersey with a scripted “D” on the front. That “other team” wasn’t going to fold up after one period, and true to their style of play, eventually wore the possibly tight ‘Hawks down, almost turning the dream of John McDonough into an absolute nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic when we were awarded the game, and ecstatic to watch the whole thing in HD (I even tuned into the NHL webcam when they were building the rink, something I’ve never done at any point for any other game in my life: thanks NHL for letting me waste some time on a slow work day). The weather was near perfect (no snow, some wind, but that’s what you get with any sporting event at Wrigley Field), the opening ceremonies were great (having ex Cubs and ‘Hawks out there showing the hidden camaraderie athletes have for different sports) and the atmosphere was electric (who knew having a hockey game at a baseball field would be better sound-wise than at a football field?).

That said, what would make it absolutely perfect in my anal, cynic sports mind? Well, just a few things:

-Having Wayne Messmer sing the National Anthem. There were rumors that he would do it this one time for the ‘Hawks, considering he does it most of the time for the Cubs when they play at Wrigley. It would be another chapter for the ‘Hawks in making amends to ex-players or ex-employees they’ve kicked to the curb in the past. I guess there’s still animosity between Wayne and the ‘Hawks.

-Have the TV announcers of both teams call the game. Yes, it was on NBC in the ‘States, and “Doc” Emrick would’ve been a fine natural choice. But when “Doc” went down with laryngitis, I think the NHL missed a golden opportunity. First period could’ve featured the great Chicago tandem of Pat Foley and Eddie Olcyzk (who did the color for this game anyway), second period featuring the Detroit guys, third period split between the two. Why the heck not? Throw in some extra local color to an otherwise worldly event.
-Not have the game on New Year’s Day. There’s so much sports-wise going on that day (umm, hello, the college football bowl games?) that there’s a bit of distraction to the average TV viewer. Maybe have this game on a weekend prior to the All-Star Game, and try to drum up interest in two events for the price of one.

That’s about it, really. That should show you how impressive this game, this event, was to a hard-core hockey fan like myself. Or show you my complete insanity. You make the call.

As soon as the game ended, everyone was asking where the next Winter Classic should be held. I think Boston’s Fenway Park is a good place to start. Wrigley Field proved that a hockey game can be enjoyed by most of the fans despite the odd dimensions to the Stadium, Fenway Park would be even better in that the place is more enclosed, and fans would be even more on the action than usual (those Green Monster seats would probably have the best view of the rink and go for at least $5,000 a pop). The Bruins would of course play against the Canadiens to continue that Original Six feel (Plan B would be the New York Rangers of course). And the Fenway Franks would make great hand warmers.

But the question shouldn’t really be where should the NHL hold the Winter Classic next year, but if the NHL should hold the Winter Classic in 2010. Remember, the Winter Olympics will start in February, and it might not be in the NHL’s best interest to take away any attention from that sports event. Then again, it would make some weird sense to hold the Winter Classic in Vancouver, and have the Canucks play against the Calgary Flames or something like that. Maybe the Olympics would be the perfect excuse to take a break from having a Winter Classic: just have it for four years in a row, then cool off when the Winter Olympics come around again. Then again again, four games in a row might take some of the Classic out of the game.

Well, whatever the NHL comes up with, it’ll hopefully be a good thing (a dicey proposition in past years, still a dicey proposition in this day and age for the league). It couldn’t get much better for everyone than on 01-01-09.

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