From the beginning, the NHL Winter Classic has been an event that is special. Special because it showcases the game of hockey by taking NHL players who have reached the world’s largest hockey stages in arenas across North America and brought them back to where it all began on an outdoor rink in the middle of winter. It was obvious to all who watched the Sabers and Penguins on New Year’s Day 2008 for the first Classic that this was an awesome sight that was unlike any normal NHL game, and that every hockey fan wanted to see more games like this.
The last six installments of the Classic have been arguably just as fun to watch as the original. Still, for a Minnesota Wild fan, I can’t help but notice my team’s absence from the game. It seems strange to me that the Wild who come from the state of Minnesota that has produced the most American-born NHL players in history (233 players) and boasts some of the best league attendance numbers year in and year out, cannot seem to land the coveted Winter Classic.
Jul 29, 2015; Foxboro, MA, USA; A Winter Classic puck rests on the net after a press conference for the Winter Classic hockey game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
This year’s Classic is set to take place on the normally scheduled New Years Day at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA just outside of Boston Massachusetts. The match-up is compelling as it will feature one of the oldest rivalries in the NHL with the Boston Bruins taking on the Montreal Canadiens. It makes one think of Rocket Richard in the 1953 Stanley Cup Finals. Still it needs to be said that this is Boston’s second time hosting the Classic in the last five years, while a majority of the NHL teams have not hosted yet or even had a chance to play in the event.
The NHL would argue that they have solved this inequity by adding the two extra outdoor Stadium Series games to the schedule. While they are great games played in great venues they are simply not the same. The Stadium Series games are not the showcase that the Winter Classic is, and it is not New Years Day where a larger audience will be watching due to the holiday and daytime start of the game.
The Wild are slated to take on the Chicago Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium on February 21st in one of two Stadium Series games. No doubt it will be a great game, but it is not the Classic; it just seems like a consolation prize from the league. Additionally it makes me wonder why all the teams except for one (the Blackhawks) that have hosted the Classic are Eastern Conference teams?
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
It sends a message, and that message is “While we at the NHL love the heartland of the US and Canada for producing some of the best players and fans, we see no reason to take the Winter Classic away from “large city” markets.” It just seems to me if you are not Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, or Washington the league doesn’t consider you able to host the Winter Classic. Do they not think that they won’t sell out Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium for a New Years Day match-up? If it’s a merchandising issue they need only to look at the facts, like that the Wild have the 10th most sold jersey on NHL.com, and if it’s a television issue the Wild are ranked 5th in the NHL in Neilson rankings. That means they beat out three of the different Eastern Conference markets that have hosted already.
The NHL needs to realize that the Winter Classic is about growing the game and making it popular in all markets. Spread it around so all fans can see their teams play with new awesome jerseys outside on New Years Day. The league should showcase all it’s franchises and celebrate all of its fans, not just the ones on the East Coast of the US. Let’s hope that when the time comes next year to pick a Winter Classic venue that we see a new market get the chance to be showcased in the great stage that is outdoors on New Years Day