The NHL held a conference call with Ed Olczyk as part of the publicity for the 2009-2010 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers held at Fenway Park. There were a few of us from SBNation who were lucky enough to be on that call, and I had the first question.
Hockey Wilderness: With the decline in the number of kids playing pond hockey and the number of empty outdoor rinks increasing, do you see the Winter Classic and especially the marketing around it as a way for the NHL to get back to its roots and get kids playing outdoors again?
Ed Olczyk: Nathan, great question: There are a lot of rinks in Chicago, Detroit, Sioux City, etc. You have families and neighborhoods flooding rinks and putting up boards. But that cost, especially in this economy is one thing that hurts our sport. To give the kids more opportunity, that's the key. In some places it is cheaper to flood something outside, but the indoor ice is so much more readily available. Kids when I played, grew up on the rink, playing well after dark and those times are what drive our sport.
With the NHL playing outdoors, it's another way to showcase the history of the game and getting some players to play outside who may have never done so. The more kids playing outside, the better product we'll eventually see. The Winter Classic is a great way to get back to the grass-roots of our sport. I offer my help to any league or community or the National Hockey League to get educated about the benefits of outdoor skating and outdoor hockey!
Hockey Wilderness: You've spent the past three years in Chicago and got to see Martin Havlat at his best. Have you seen him this season, and can you give us some thoughts on what you've seen thus far?
Nathan, yeah I have seen Marty, and I think a lot of Marty as a player and a person. I think that sometimes when a player changes, it takes a while to get comfortable and get rolling. Marty is a terrific talent and with the success he had last year it isn't any secret that he was playing for a contract. The role was perfect. He wasn't asked to do too much. He wasn't the go-to guy, but he played like it. There are times where he looks lost, looks like he's doing too much or thinking too much, trying to figure out what's going on, but the last couple of games he's showing signs. Had a couple great rushes against Phoenix and a couple assists the game before that. With the Wild you have one of the most underrated players in Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette is a great talent. Marty needs help, he's a creative guy, but it's hard to find world class players to play with a guy like that. It's only a matter of time before he becomes a difference maker , it just takes a little bit of time and he'll get it going.
The rest are questions not asked by me, and I cherry picked some answers:
Some dude: How much has the Winter Classic helped the NHL gain popularity in the US?
You get people who may not have grown up watching and following hockey. We live in a hot-button society. You have people who say "I really want to see this team or this guy play" and you have the ability to showcase your best and brightest. That kid may then decide they want to try out hockey, and there are opportunities for them nationwide. There are more kids not from so-called "hockey hotbeds" and this may be the first time they've seen hockey outside.
Some other dude: What's next for the Winter Classic?
Every team has a drawing card when it comes to an individual. Some teams have more than 1 or 2 superstars, some teams have more history. But it takes two to tango, and there aren't unlimited venues. Should we go to Ann Arbor? Happy Valley? Minneapolis and the new Gopher stadium? I hope every team gets to play in one at some point, but the league has done a tremendous job in mapping it out. Obviously there are some places where you can't do it, but that's for people smarter than me to figure out.
So, that pretty much sums up the important stuff. Thanks to the NHL for setting it up.