Today was the day that the NHL schedule used to be released, but the league has changed that the last two years by unveiling it in June. To whet your appetite for the 2011-12 season, here are five dates (six, actually) you need to circle on your calendar. 1. January 2 – Rangers at Flyers, 2012 Winter Classic
The Winter Classic is always one of the top moments of the NHL season; but if you’re expecting to see it on New Year’s Day this winter, you’d be out of luck. Due to the NFL schedule and Jan. 1 landing on a Sunday, this season’s lone outdoor game will be played on Monday, January 2 at Citizens Bank Park, home of baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies.
Chris Pronger and the Flyers will ‘host’ Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. It will be difficult to match the hype and build-up to last year’s Classic in Pittsburgh, but a (hopefully) cooperative mother nature could make it a better game. With HBO’s 24/7, the characters on both teams (John Tortorella, Sean Avery, Pronger, etc.) should add anticipation in the weeks leading up.
This is one of the best spectacles in all of sports. It is the fifth annual event and it’s the third to be held in a baseball stadium. It will also be Philadelphia’s second appearance in the game.
2. April 7 – 15 games on final day of season
Saturday, April 7 is the only time this entire NHL season where all 30 teams play on the same day. There will be games all day long and some of them (or more), you can assume, will have playoff implications. Old school rivals Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as Detroit and Chicago, will face off. 2011 playoff combatants Los Angeles and San Jose, as well as Washington and New York, are slated to play, too.
You know playoff spots will be on the line, and getting every team to end the regular season on the same day was great work by the league’s schedule-maker. ‘Super Saturday’ will undoubtedly be super!
3. January 7 – Canucks at Bruins
Tim Thomas and the Bruins ‘welcome’ the Vancouver Canucks to town after their brutal seven-game series in June. It may be a matinee affair on a Saturday in January, but that won’t put a damper on this one.
The Bruins will remember the biting and diving; the Canucks will be out for revenge after letting the Cup slip out of their grasps. More bad blood will carryover for the Canucks and Bruins than most Stanley Cup final series. By Game 4, this was a full-fledged mini-rivalry, much more so than, say, Blackhawks-Flyers, Ducks-Senators or even Red Wings-Penguins.
Sometimes Stanley Cup rematches lack intensity or any resemblance of their previous meeting just months prior. B’s-Canucks, however, should be different.
4. December 28 – Flyers at Penguins
Of the six meetings between the Flyers and Penguins this year, the contest on Dec. 28 will surely have more sizzle to it than the others. That’s the night that Jaromir Jagr and, to a lesser extent, Max Talbot make their returns to Pittsburgh.
Jaromir Jagr has played many games in Pittsburgh since leaving town in 2001, but none of them were as hostile as what this one is expected to be. After three years in the KHL, Jagr made it well-known that he would make a comeback to the NHL; Pittsburgh was the rumored favorite. Fans in the Steel City were on ‘Jagr Watch’ for days at a time, anxiously awaiting his return. Instead, he signed with arch-rival Philadelphia on July 1.
This will be their second meeting of the season, but first in Pittsburgh. Jagr will return as a villain to the city we was once loved. Pens-Flyers just added a whole new chapter to its rivalry.
5. February 11 & 19 – Hockey Day in Canada & Hockey Day in America
One of my favorite days of the NHL year is CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada, where all six Canadian teams face-off against one another in a triple-header. On Feb. 11, CBC will set up shop on Prince Edward Island for Hockey Day in Canada and have wall-to-wall coverage of the day’s action. The games will be Edmonton at Ottawa, Montreal at Toronto and Vancouver at Calgary.
Hockey Day in America started up last season on NBC, and they’ve decided to continue it here in 2011-12. It will be held on Feb. 19, the weekend after Hockey Day in Canada. This day’s featured games are Pittsburgh at Buffalo, San Jose at Detroit, St. Louis at Chicago and Boston at Minnesota.
It’s always great to see CBC, and now NBC, celebrate hockey in its country with an all-day devotion to games.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.