After having a few days to reflect on the 2011 Winter Classic and read others praises and criticism, I wanted to post a wrap up of my own. Aside from my own personal adventures below, this post addresses some of the things that I have heard since the event.
*Media outlets across the country have criticized Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau for saying that the game was the biggest thing next to winning a Stanley Cup. I am not sure many people, particularly fans of the winning team, who were there would disagree. Sure it was just a “regular season” game, but the atmosphere was so much more. Over 68,000 fans, including a LOT of people wearing the red and white were there to witness the late night spectacle. Especially when you come from a state where teams struggle to fill a regular hockey arena, to see a stadium brimming with fans who had come together, but were so divided, the night was truly magical. Even a Stanley Cup playoff game is going to have maximum in the neighborhood of 20,000 fans…there were over 3 TIMES that at the Winter Classic. It was huge.
*The quality of the ice was extremely poor. I felt like the temperature when the game started was actually perfect. Of course, the rain during the second and third periods was not ideal, but to see all of those people sitting in it really showed how dedicated the fans were to this event. I also heard that the television broadcast seemed to pretend the rain did not exist. I think this certainly could have been played up. The Winter Classic is about returning to the roots of the sport – celebrating the backyard pickup game on the pond. It seems that with the glitz of the NHL, many have forgotten that this game started out with less than perfect ice conditions. I’m pretty sure Ovechkin did not have a Zamboni hiding out in the garage of his backyard in Russia. The NHL is supposed to be the most skilled players of this sport. Sure the ice might have posed additional challenges, but these players are the best, they should be able to adapt to conditions. Also, the NHL tried to keep it fair, giving each team equal time on both ends of the ice. I was told that the viewers at home did not really see the switch in the third period.
*Camera angles on television were less than ideal. Having not yet seen the television broadcast, I cannot comment on this except to say that this game is held once a year. It is not like the camera guys have experience with this or a chance to practice. Also, the game time was moved on Friday. There was not a ton of time to make adjustments to accommodate glare or weather/ice conditions. I am sure there were lessons learned and things that could be improved, but a comment to me after the game was made by a friend that really hit home. This friend plays minor league soccer; he is not a hockey fan per se and he told me that he was watching the game on television and couldn’t imagine how great it must be to be there. This is what the Winter Classic should be all about – introducing new fans to the sport. Sure the Stanley Cup playoffs might be the true highlight of the sport’s premier games, but during that time the league is competing with NBA Finals for viewership. The Winter Classic has less competition, typically matching up only with college bowl games and other NHL games. I do think it would be in the league’s best interest, however, not to schedule any other games on New Year’s Day, so as to avoid potential conflicts.
*The Ovechkin/Crosby matchup and the Penguins/Capitals rivalry were overplayed. As a Capitals fan, I know how bitter the rivalry between the two teams is first hand. While it is true that neither Ovechkin nor Crosby scored a point in this matchup, there is no denying the amazing accomplishments of both and how strangely parallel their careers are. Both players suited up in the NHL for the first time the same year, both have already had storied careers, and both of their teams are better when they are on the ice. I’m sure a lot of people were tired of hearing about the two players and I agree that the media could have focused on some other stories, but I think in some cases, they did a good job of promotion. In particular, the HBO special 24/7 covering both teams road to the Winter Classic was extremely well-produced and showcased some unlikely members of the team. For example, showing the recalling and sending back down of AHL players gave viewers a peek into the life of a prospect in these systems and interviewing Matt Hendricks up close after a nasty black eye, complete with stiches really demonstrated the toughness of some of these players.
*There are some that said this should be a day game and the NHL should have moved it to Sunday. I disagree. I think the game played under the lights was truly something special. It kind of gave me the feeling of being a kid and playing outside up until the very last possible minute, even though your parents were telling you it was time to come inside. It was like just that one time when they allowed you to stay out just a little past your bedtime because you were having so much fun. The Super Bowl is played at night and I think this is kind of the atmosphere that was present at Heinz Field. Also this was great since New Year’s Eve was the night before. So many revelers were out late and the 8 pm start time on Saturday allowed them to sleep in, enjoy brunch and then start tailgating in the afternoon. The build up to the event was just the right amount.
I hope the NHL continues to do the Winter Classic for years to come. I also hope that they do rotate the teams that are playing, regardless of home location so that everyone, both players and fans get the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful experience. And I hope they continue to play the game under the lights of the stadium. I know I will be there.