By Dave Bruning
Children are born with skates on all across Canada and in hockey hot beds of the United States. These children make a quick transition to outdoor ponds, regularly playing hockey past dark thirty and fighting off frost bite. A select few are talented enough to play professionally. It only seems natural to return to those children to the outdoor ponds they learned to play hockey on.
The National Hockey League has hit a home run with their Winter Classic series of outdoor hockey games. It is perhaps the best thing Gary Bettman has done in an otherwise unspectacular tenure as commissioner of the National Hockey League.
The first Winter Classic was played in 2008 in Buffalo. The games have been wildly popular for fans and on television. The original concept was a game on New Year’s Day, but has been expanded because of the overwhelming popularity.
The venues for these games are major league baseball parks. The Winter Classic has visited the venerable baseball stomping grounds of Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and this past year, expanded to Dodger Stadium (hockey fun in the sun!). In a stroke of marketing genius, Yankee Stadium hosted two games during the week of the Super Bowl.
The Winter Classic concept has expanded to become a mini All-Star weekend. Charity hockey games and a rink for children are part of the extravaganza. Nothing in recent history has elevated the presence of hockey like the Winter Classic. For a sport that struggles for recognition against football, baseball and basketball, this cannot be understated.
The Winter Classic is not without problems. The logistics of creating an outdoor ice arena are daunting. Weather is a constant factor; however, fans seem to relish the cold and crave for snow to fall during the games. The biggest complaint from players is the condition of the ice and the potential of injury from the resulting poor ice.
The resurgence of the Colorado Avalanche brings hope of a Colorado Winter Classic. A 2017 game with the Detroit Red Wings would be perfect. The 20 year anniversary of their classic brawl could be woven into the theme of a great hockey weekend in Denver.
Hockey is now on an extended break, with the Winter Classic passing the hockey torch to the Olympics. Once again, it is a wonderful opportunity for hockey to grab the sporting spotlight. Olympic hockey is perhaps the best hockey played in the world, and it is a once every 4 years treat.
Hockey is a wonderful, fast-paced sport. The Winter Classic series of outdoor hockey games has returned hockey to its roots, and in return, dropped the puck on a new era of hockey.