NHL OUTDOOR GAMES: WHAT’S NEXT?

Hey! Hockey Fans! Stop complaining about the cold weather or the Polar Vortex…if we didn’t have cold winters, we wouldn’t have HOCKEY! EY!
We wouldn’t have Outdoor Hockey Games either…Ooops!
That’s not completely true is it?
AN OUTDOOR HOCKEY GAME IN CALIFORNIA…!
REALLY!
Who could have predicted the popularity of the NHL outdoor games and that the NHL would schedule 6 REGULAR SEASON OUTDOOR GAMES in the 2013-14 season. This past week alone, as part of the “Stadium Series”, there were 3 such games in 5 days; including two games at the legendary Yankee Stadium, in New York and an OUTDOOR GAME IN CALIFORNIA at the Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles. REALLY!!!

Honestly, I was one of many who didn’t believe that they could pull it off in California!

Was the National Hockey League going overboard? Were they pushing the envelope a little too far? There were many possible uncontrollable destructive factors to consider: The sun, the rain, the humidity, the heat… It could be disastrous if the ice conditions would force a cancellation. And what about fan interest? Would Californians have any interest in an outdoor hockey game?

Well, “chapeau” to the NHL. The “star studded” event was attended by 54,099 fans and viewed on TV by millions. The ice and the hockey conditions were fine. It was awesome! Wayne Gretzky, dropping the ceremonial face off was a nice touch and KISS as entertainment was… well …You can’t win’em all…!

Did you know that large scale outdoor hockey games are not such a novel idea after all? Some Olympic games were played outdoors in the early 1900’s. The 1957 gold medal game between the Soviet Union and Sweden at the Lenin Stadium in Moscow attracted approximately 55,000 fans, a number that stood as a record for more than 40 years
Since 2001, there have been 107 outdoor hockey games in North America and Europe. You can look up the list of games at this website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_outdoor_ice_hockey_games
(Wikipedia is my new BFF)

The first NHL experiment with outdoor games was in Edmonton in 2003. The “Heritage Classic” featured the Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens. It was a natural. Two Canadian teams playing their National sport in its natural settings. It was a “hit”. Even though the weather was -2F, hockey fans loved it and the players embraced the event.

In 2008, the yearly “Winter Classic” was born in snowy Buffalo when the Sabres played a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was followed with games at Wrigley Field, in Chicago, Fenway Park, in Boston, Heinz Field, in Pittsburgh and Citizens Bank Park, in Philadelphia.

Detroit had two years because of the NHL lockout, to prepare for the next event at the Michigan Stadium, in Ann Arbor, Michigan where 105,491 fans attended.

My wife, Nicole and I attended the Winter Classic games in Chicago and in Ann Arbor. We had a great time at both events. I missed some of the games’ action because I wanted to experience the moment. Fans parading in their team’s colors ignoring the elements, the spirited atmosphere and the overall spectacle that the NHL provided are forever engraved as a great memory.

Sports Illustrated columnist Dan Shaughnessy said of the Winter Classic, “Now hockey owns New Year’s Day the way baseball owns the Fourth of July and football owns Thanksgiving.”

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

The NHL must keep it fresh and entertaining for their fans. Avoid complacency and over saturating the market.

WHAT ABOUT NHL OUTDOOR GAMES IN EUROPE? Why not? Possibilities are now endless…What about Florida???

…and for the sake of the more “mature fans”, what about a group like the EAGLES as entertainment? KISS was a little over the top…!

HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!
PHIL MYRE

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