It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Winter Classic
I was chatting with the legendary Doc Emrick during yesterday’s morning skate in Pittsburgh. We both were under the impression that this was the biggest single-game event in the league’s history and had a very special feel. Then we both pondered: Has the league set the bar too high for the Winter Classic?
I think it’s a fair question. Penguins-Capitals was absolutely the best matchup the NHL could have chosen for this event. With every subplot beaten to a drum, HBO's awesome and extensive coverage, along with the rivalry between the two teams, the league really hit a grand slam.
Emrick pointed out that no one knew what to expect in 2008 in Buffalo, and then the last two years were nice steps in the right direction. But here in the Steel City, it has exploded as a must-see event not only in the hockey world, but in the sports world.
Looking down the road, you have to wonder how the league will be able to keep up this momentum. The Winter Classic has grown into the Super Bowl of hockey. Seeing it up close for the first time this weekend, I don’t think there’s any other accurate statement. It’s the time where they can use one game to market the game and sell it to average or non-hockey fans.
How can the NHL further improve the event so it doesn’t become a stale product in the next few years? Do they opt for a double-header at a neutral site – example: Lambeau Field – where they can bring in regional teams? Do they make the game more fan-friendly and try to bring them closer to action with a handful of rows on the glass? Will the weather fiasco this weekend plant a seed of doubt in future hosts?
One worry you have to have is two outdoor games in one season. The Heritage Classic is seemingly a forgotten entity, overshadowed by what transpired in Pittsburgh over the last week. It certainly won’t be able to match the hype, anticipation, and aura that Heinz Field offered.
If they can avoid having two games a year, I don’t see it becoming a watered-down product. As for a possible double-header (as a one-time deal) or adding other extra nuances, I think it can only help the game.
No matter what going forward… unless we get a rematch of Pens-Caps in D.C. within the next few years, this weekend’s Winter Classic in Pittsburgh is on a platform that may not ever be reached.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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