The Winter Classic is supposed to be a magical game. Hockey returning to its roots, and being played outside. Regardless of where it is played, or who is playing in it, it should be a special event, meant to bring the hockey community together. At the same time, it should not be turned into some kind of Super Bowl-like event. It is still a regular season hockey game, worth the same amount as every other game.
Of course, anything that has the best of intentions is clearly meant to be blasted by everyone who possibly can, and the event is to be bemoaned as an over-hyped waste of time. This event is no different, despite what has become the NHL's single greatest event, save for the Stanley Cup finals.
The biggest difference is that there is no "earning" your place in this game. You are chosen by the league based on completely subjective, secret discussions. That makes it ripe for the pickings, and will make it a target for as long as it is played.
After the jump, my thoughts on this year's Winter Classic.
Despite the love fest that this game is getting in most media outlets, this version of the Winter Classic was not overly impressive. Maybe it is the fact that the three previous versions have all had something magical about them. The first year, it was the newness of it all, the snow falling as Crosby potted the winner in the skills competition. The next year, we had the magic of Wrigley, and an original six matchup. Last year, we had Fenway park.
Never has the game been played west of the Mississippi. That is the only thing that gets my goat about where they play and who plays. Get the game out to the rest of the NHL, or risk it becoming a farce, ratings be damned.
Back to this year's event. The hype machine that is the NHL, and its television partner NBC, made this a game to end all games. Crosby vs Ovechkin, outside, every hockey fan drooling over themselves to simply be honored with the privilege of watching it unfold. Unfortunately, the event itself was surrounded by too much myth, too much false legend.
While there was an underlying reality which was monumentally entertaining to me and others, the falsities, over promotion, and down right bitterness surrounding the game were obstacles that fans had to fight through to enjoy the game for what it is. A regular season game played outside.
A few things stuck out about the game to me. Here they are.
Sidney Crosby vs Alex Ovechkin Doesn't Do Anything for Me
I know this plays well in the media, and I know it has been beaten like a dead horse that used to be a red-headed step child. Still, the rivalry just doesn't do much. Maybe it is meant to draw in non-hockey fans, I just don't know. The unfortunate part for the NHL is that when you market something by playing on tradition, and then use that tradition to market to non-hockey fans, it irritates the hell out of hockey fans.
This is our sport, and this should be our game. You want to turn it into a recruiting effort, fine, but you can do it without making the rest of us feel used. Drop the act with Sid and Ovie already. We get it, they don't like each other. Whoopie.
TV Spectacle That Wasn't
I love hockey. I love watching the game, no matter who is playing. I would watch it while sitting on a bucket out on a lake in sub zero temperatures on a 3 inch black and white screen. In fact, I have. When you present to me the chance to watch the game on a 46" LCD HDTV, I will jump every time.
Yet, this game was lacking. Many really enjoyed the game being played under the lights. I hated every second of it. The glare was distracting, to the point that it made it difficult for someone who has watched more hockey games than should be allowed and still be sane to watch the game. If it was the rain, so be it, but keep in mind, ice is shiny. It doesn't work under the harsh glow of a football stadium.
The only thing worse than the glare were the camera angles. The boom cam and the aerial shots just didn't do anything, except pick up more glare. Even the regular side to side angle took a full period to figure out that we did not want to watch people walking back and forth on our side of the glass.
If it had been only a visual failure, it may have been tolerable. However, having Doc explain to us that center ice is between the bluelines, and that the C on Crosby's jersey means he is the captain made the audio just as appalling.
I sure hope it worked for the recruitment effort, because the entire TV production was lost on me.
Canadian Columnists Gets Bent Out of Shape
Damien Cox and David Staples make their money riling people up. They belittle the things people hold dear, provide only the barest of support, and then whine incessantly until the rest of finally cave to their goading and tell them to sit down and shut up.
Cox spent three days pointing out that no Canadian teams were involved, and how evil that makes the NHL. Despite the fact that proof shows that the first outdoor NHL game came in 1991 in Las Vegas, Cox held to his claim that it was in Edmonton. He split hairs about regular season vs pre-season, but the fact is, he was just angry that he couldn't be right.
Then tonight, David Staples took the chance to lambaste CBC for not airing the Flames vs Oilers rather than the Winter Classic, saying that they clearly do not understand Alberta hockey fans. Little did he know it was broadcast to all of Alberta except Edmonton.
The real point being that it makes no sense to broadcast a game between the 14th and 15th place teams in the West rather than a once a year spectacle.
Rain is not Snow
Snow is beautiful. It summons images of outdoor hockey, played on cold days after shoveling off the rink. Snow equates to winter, and winter equates to hockey.
It did not snow, it rained. Despite assurances from the NHL that the only things that can cause major issues is direct sunlight, the ice conditions were terrible. The players and the announcers told us otherwise, but since we are not NHL referees, we are not blind. We could see it right there in stunning HD.
The rain created puddles on the ice The puddles slowed the puck, which slowed the game. Again, the announcers tried to tell us how fast things were moving, and again, our eyes told us otherwise. When a puck creates waves, you know something is wrong, and no matter how many times you tell me otherwise, that is not compelling hockey.
Obviously, the NHL cannot control the weather. Ice master Dan Craig is a genius, and the fact that this game was played at all is a testament to the work that he and his team did. The fact that the PR machine tried to sell it as something it wasn't is not their fault, and their work is belittled by the way it was sold.
Note to the NHL and NBC. Tell us the truth. Tell what is happening, don't try to sell it as something it isn't. You certainly could have sold me on the rain. What a challenge it must have been to play this game in the rain, with a wet ice surface. Tell us about that. Don't pretend like it isn't there.
The Lack of Sportsmanship was Disgusting
This comes back to the fact that the league over hyped this game and turned it into some kind of tournament. The players celebrated goals as though they had just won a championship. The best in the game jumping up and down as though they just scored for the first time in their peewee career. Malkin jumping the boards into his waiting team's arms. The Caps hugging and jumping as a group when they tied the game.
At the end of the game, rather than playing it out like a professional, Ovechin throws his arms up in the air with six seconds left as a Penguin skater drove into the neutral zone. Then he did so again as Varlamov froze the puck and a scrum broke out behind the net. As the linesman tried to line the players up to run the last .6 off the clock, the players took it upon themselves to start a slap fight with each other. Once they finally dropped the puck, the Caps all rushed into each other's arms as though Gary Bettman were about to present the chalice.
Bruce Boudreau even made the comment in his post-game presser that this was "the closet they had ever come to winning a Stanley Cup." No sir, it wasn't. You have made the playoffs. You don't win a Cup by winning the Winter Classic. You know what you get? Two points. That's it.
To cap it all off, the teams skated off the ice without shaking hands. There is no rule in hockey that says they have to, and these two teams do not like each other. I get it. At the same time, you are on national television in two countries. Act like you belong there.
The above diatribe would tell you that I did not enjoy the game. I did. I loved it, as a matter of fact. You could have had the Thrashers and Maple Leafs out there for all I care. This is a singular event that happens just once a year. It is a spectacle all its own. The game was a good one. A rivalry played out outside, the players fought through some tough conditions, and there was a victor.
Why could it not be presented to the adult population just that way?
The negatives were of the contrived and created style. NBC and the NHL over sold the event, and have turned it into something it isn't. Sell the game, sell the tradition, sell the rivalry. Don't sell me things that are not there, and do not treat me like I'm stupid. Shame on both parties for the sad, pathetic attempt to trick your viewers into thinking nothing was wrong.
Congrats to the Penguins and the Capitals on a hard fought game. A plague on both your houses for the lack of sportsmanship, but you played hard and you did so is less than perfect conditions. No one is perfect, no game is perfect, and both teams did everything they could to be entertaining.
Next year... whoever is involved, and wherever it is played... just play the game.