NHL Winter Classic: 10 Memorable Moments from Hockey's New Year's Spectacle
On Monday, the NHL put on the show that has become its biggest regular-season game of the year.
The Winter Classic originated in 2008, as an outdoor matchup played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, New York. The Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins out in the elements, and every year since, the NHL has celebrated the New Year with a return to pond hockey.
Five years into the event, the Winter Classic has expanded to host college hockey games, minor league games, and an alumni game for the two franchises playing in the main event. A show of this caliber is bound to produce memories, and this season’s matchup between the New York Rangers and the host Philadelphia Flyers did not disappoint.
Here are 10 memorable moments to take away from hockey’s biggest weekend of the regular season.
Bernie Parent's Long-Awaited Farewell
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Bernie Parent’s career ended in the first period of a game in February of 1979 in a game against the New York Rangers.
An errant stick would unluckily slip through the hole in Parent’s goalie mask and strike the Cup-winning goaltender in the eye. He would suffer two conjunctional tears in his right eye, impairing his depth perception and ending his career in hockey at the age of 33.
On Dec. 30, 2011, Parent returned to the ice one final time to the thrill of the Flyers faithful.
The man who saved more than anyone but the Lord added six more saves (unofficially, of course) to his career totals, as he played the first five minutes of the Winter Classic Alumni Game. He then skated a lap to finally receive the farewell he earned more than 30 years prior.
88 Comes Home
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For many fans in Philadelphia, the Winter Classic itself took a backseat to the return of their former captain and Hart Trophy winner, Eric Lindros.
Lindros and the Flyers famously feuded in 2000 and 2001, resulting in the Big E being traded to none other than the New York Rangers.
Lindros would bounce around the league for a few years before retiring, largely due to injuries, but he never made a public appearance on behalf of the Flyers again, the way other legends of the organization have found roles in the franchise.
Thus, before the weeks leading up to the Winter Classic, Lindros was a controversial figure at best in the City of Brotherly Love. But by agreeing to return to the city for the alumni game, a trip that included an autograph-signing charity event with former teammate John LeClair, Lindros appeared to be willing to bury the hatchet on his end.
And the fans responded in kind, giving 88 an outstanding ovation as he returned to the ice.
Some may call it hyperbolic, but this gesture of Lindros’s could have opened the doors to the Flyers Hall of Fame for the hockey legend. And it may be a long-shot for now, but is it inconceivable for No. 88 to be raised to the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center?
Bobrovsky Takes the Reins
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From the moment he signed a nine-year, $51 million deal in June, Ilya Bryzgalov was crowned the Flyers’ starting goaltender.
That is, until his struggles put his job in question.
Goalies commonly sit the bench to allow the backup to start as part of their season-long conditioning, but coaches always make sure that their top netminders are between the pipes for the biggest games.
A national spectacle against a division rival is a no-brainer for a coach when it comes to selecting his goalie, unless that coach seems unsure of who his starter is.
Bryzgalov’s underwhelming numbers for the season, combined with a strong showing by backup Sergei Bobrovsky in the prior game, put the “Master of the Universe” on the bench for the big game.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Bryzgalov announced the decision himself, before the team’s coaches or general manager had the chance.
Bryzgalov is clearly aware that his struggles have him playing well below expectations, and seemed to understand the decision, but the whole scenario appears to have whispers of “goalie controversy” alive and well in Philadelphia…again.
As if the Winter Classic didn’t have enough drama without all that.
Marc Staal Returns
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Only the City of Brotherly Love could be the setting for the return of a defenseman who had missed the entire season as a result of a little…brotherly love.
Marc Staal took a shoulder check from older brother Eric in a game against the Hurricanes last February. Though Marc finished the season, he would be diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome in the summer and would not be ready for the season opener.
In fact, Marc missed the remainder of 2011, and except for the occasional rumor, there was limited evidence that he would return for the Winter Classic.
Hours before the game, the Rangers revealed that Staal would play in the Winter Classic. Many Rangers fans in attendance, already well into their tailgates, were unaware of the news until they saw No. 18 on the ice.
Considering the fact that hockey lost Sidney Crosby to a concussion during the 2011 Winter Classic, it seems like a good omen that the sport would see a prominent player return from the same ailment for 2012.
Lauren Hart and Kate Smith’s Diamond Duet
Flyers fans will probably spend more time priding themselves on the team’s Broad Street Bullies reputation or the recognition that the fan base is one of the most passionate in the entire United States, but the team can even brag about a little music as well.
Lauren Hart, the daughter of Gene Hart and current anthem singer for the team, was named the greatest anthem singer in NHL history in a Hockey News poll.
Before Hart, the Flyers were serenaded by their good luck charm, Kate Smith, who sang the Flyers to two Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975.
Their duet of “God Bless America” is not new to Flyers fans, but the performance—a live version by Hart, sang with a video recording of Smith—was that much more special outdoors in front of a crowd of more than 40,000.
Brayden Breaks Through
In the second period of the Winter Classic game, Brayden Schenn found a Matt Carle rebound in front of Henrik Lundqvist and buried the puck to break a scoreless tie.
Scoring in the Winter Classic is special on its own, but the goal was the first of Schenn’s career, and perhaps marked the beginning of the end of frustrations for the 20 year-old prospect.
Schenn was acquired, along with Wayne Simmonds, in exchange for one of Philadelphia’s most popular athletes, Mike Richards. As fans struggled to make sense of the trade, information emerged about Schenn’s potential, and the expectations for Schenn to become a Philadelphia superstar immediately emerged.
Instead of taking the NHL by storm, Schenn has been the least-noticeable rookie on a team full of rookies. He has missed time due to two separate injuries, started the season in Adirondack, and failed to register a point until the calendar changed over.
But now, Schenn is on the board. His first goal, however long it took, is extra-memorable for the setting in which it occurred. Having played his best game of the season in the Winter Classic, and with players being moved around due to a Jaromir Jagr injury, Schenn just may find himself with more and more opportunity to build upon his outdoor performance.
Giroux Shines on Center Stage
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Claude Giroux has emerged in 2011-12 as an absolute superstar.
He led the league in scoring in mid-December, when he missed four games with a concussion. Despite the setback, he continues to rank among the league’s top scorers, contributing as both a shooter and a playmaker.
With Sidney Crosby out with his recurring concussion issues and Alex Ovechkin having trouble capturing the success of years gone by, hockey has been in need of a new face, and Giroux has emerged as a candidate, whether he likes it or not.
Casual hockey fans who have heard the name but never seen the face were treated to a show less than two minutes after Schenn scored, as Giroux took a Max Talbot pass and went forehand-to-backhand to beat Henrik Lundqvist with two defenders closing in on him.
The highlight reel goal appeared to give the Flyers momentum, and while that momentum would soon swing the other way, there is no denying that Giroux made his case as the league’s top forward on the biggest stage of them all.
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When an opponent gets some momentum, the Rangers regularly turn to their tough-guy, Mike Rupp, to steal some momentum back.
Somehow in the outdoor chill, Rupp apparently forgot how he’s supposed to turn the tables.
Thirty seconds after Giroux gave the Flyers a quick two-goal lead, Rupp got a pass from linemate Brandon Prust in the high slot. Using Flyers’ defenseman Andrej Meszaros as a screen, Rupp beat Bobrovsky glove-side to quiet the crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
The goal doubled Rupp’s total for the season, and he wasn’t done.
Early in the third, with his team still down by one, Rupp again took a pass from Prust and threw the puck on net. The disc sneaked past Bobrovsky’s blocker side and knotted the score.
The Rangers would not look back and Mike Rupp, using wrists instead of fists, led the blueshirts to a wintery victory.
Lundqvist Stones Briere
With the Rangers up 3-2 in the waning moments of the third period, Ryan McDonagh tried to sweep a loose puck out of the crease. According to the officials, McDonagh closed his hand on the puck, automatically resulting in a penalty shot.
Philadelphia’s Danny Briere was selected to take the shot on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has been one of the league’s most successful goalies against penalty shots since the shootout was instituted in 2005.
Dealing with choppy ice, the outdoor elements and 46,967 pairs of eyes in the stands, Briere moved in on Lundqvist. Rather than risk losing the puck by stick-handling, Briere elected a straightforward approach of trying to beat the Rangers’ netminder five-hole.
Briere was quick, but Lundqvist was quicker to get into the butterfly, and the goalie stoned Briere to solidify a Rangers victory.
The penalty shot was high drama, with controversy attached to it, and was a climatic ending to an intense hockey game.
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The drama of the Winter Classic did not end with the game itself.
After the matchup, Rangers’ coach John Tortorella speculated that the NHL and NBC had tried to get the game to go to overtime to heighten the drama of the event.
Tortorella’s smoke is not without fire; the aforementioned penalty shot was an ambiguous play at best. Camera’s failed to show McDonagh clearly covering the puck with his hand, though conversely, they do not clearly show the defenseman merely sweeping the puck out of the crease, either.
More baffling was a call that came just prior to the penalty shot, with the Flyers skating six-on-five thanks to an empty net.
With New York’s Ryan Callahan moving the puck into the Flyers’ zone on a dump-in, Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen interfered with Callahan to prevent him from getting to the puck and scoring an empty-net goal.
Strangely, though Timonen was called for interference, Callahan was sent to the box as well. Initially, it seemed the referees had called a dive, evidence of which would be sketchy to begin with. Instead, the zebras sent Callahan to the box for…holding the stick?
The trumped-up charges seem without explanation unless you’re willing to buy Tortorella’s idea.
For what it’s worth, Tortorella would apologize for the comments, and he would be fined by the league. But, that doesn’t make him wrong…