Takin' a T/O with BT: 10 Reasons to Tune in to the NHL Winter Classic
It's become a yearly tradition in the NHL, whether you agree with its annual nature or think it should be reserved for special occasions, if you're a hockey fan, you'll watch.
It's the biggest, most-watched game of pond hockey in the world, played in some of the most historical venues known to the sporting universe, featuring some of the most gifted athletes.
In other words, we're just over two and a half weeks away from the NHL's fourth Bridgestone Winter Classic.
So while the players are getting their toques, leg-warmers, and thermoses ready for the frigid conditions, it's time to set aside that time on New Year's Day so you can take in the festivities as well.
And, as if you didn't need more reason than snickering at 80,000 people as they brave the frigid conditions in Fenway Park, well here's ten more.
10. It's Fenway Park
The Green Monster? The age-old concourse? The history and legends of Ted Williams, Babe Ruth (kind of), Jim Rice, and Dave Roberts (If 2004 never happens, he never gets mentioned...then again the Sox may never win the World Series)?
It's all there.
And just like with Wrigley Field last year, part of the reason you watch is history.
To watch a crew transform the once-luscious green field that Carlton Fisk and the like played on, into a sheet of ice fit for the great Bobby Orr provides just one level of interest for the casual or hardcore hockey fan, or even the baseball fan who's wondering what just happened to paradise.
9. The Game is Played on New Years Day
Look, you can tell your significant other or your parents whatever you want, but we all know what happened last night.
The funny thing is, you don't.
But, while you're cuddled up under a blanket nursing your headache, not wanting to get up and face the world. Not even to answer the door to accept the Chinese food you just ordered, then turn on the TV, tune in, and sit yourself on the couch to watch the grandest spectacle that hockey has to offer, until the playoffs that is.
The great thing is, you don't have to go very far—you probably ended up on the couch last night anyways.
8. (Re)Developing a Rivalry
When it was the Heritage Classic, two of the most decorated teams in recent history squared off in the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. They had a few big battles for dominance over the years in the NHL.
When Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins faced off against the Buffalo Sabres, it showcased some of the brightest young stars in the NHL, giving Crosby another springboard for his burgeoning NHL career.
Last year, it was an Original Six showdown between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. What it was also able to show, was that this may be the transition from the old regime of dominance (Detroit) to the new regime of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and the Chicago Blackhawks.
This year? We're revisiting the 1973-74 Stanley Cup final from the days of Bobby Orr and the Broad Street Bullies.
Now we could be seeing the development of Tuukka Rask into a top-level NHL netminder (Toronto fans just slammed their hands in their desk drawers), a matchup of two of the biggest and best defensemen in the NHL (Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara—the two biggest players to ever take to outdoor ice...probably), and the possibility that this rivalry gets revitalized.
With names like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Danny Briere on one side going up against the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, and Milan Lucic on the other, an outdoor game could revitalize or instill some bad blood.
7. Fashion Trends
Everyone remembers Jose Theodore donning the toque over his mask to keep his head warm.
Thanks to the Winter Classic, the Pittsburgh Penguins re-introduced the baby blue as a third jersey—one of the best in the NHL.
The Blackhawks and Red Wings even took us for a stroll down memory lane last year when they went back into their histories for their outdoor looks.
In every which way, the Winter Classic is a great opportunity to bust out a new look.
Whether it's the toque or a jersey, a jacket or a scarf, there's always something interesting to check out with the Classic.
And even though it's after Christmas, maybe you'll find something that you want to spend that Christmas bonus or gift card on.
6. The Excitement of the Game
Last year, the Chicago Blackhawks jumped out to a 3-1 lead after the first period.
The Red Wings however, climbed back into the contest, flexed their hockey muscle, and wrenched out a 6-4 win.
The year before, the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins went to overtime. But overtime wasn't enough, so they went to a shootout.
It was there that Sidney Crosby played hero for the beloved Pens, proving his mettle in the ultimate game of shinny.
When Montreal faced off with Edmonton, the scoring was back and forth. While the Canadiens jumped out to a 3-1 lead early in the third, Edmonton wouldn't go away, potting two of the last three goals and buzzing with just over five minutes to play and a one-goal lead to overcome.
Each Classic (Bridgestone, Winter, or Heritage) has had their own level of excitement, bringing fans a new hockey experience each time.
So the question remains: What will come from this year's game?
5. The Weather
Played in mid-winter, you always run the risk of strange weather.
The Oilers and Habs played in conditions too cold for a Polar Bear or Penguin, while it seems that every year since there's been a bit of snow to varying degrees.
But isn't that what makes the Classic fun? Turning on the television and watching your favorite players skate around to a slight dusting of snow crossing your TV screen?
When you think about it, this is an experience that hasn't happened since the invention of TV—in fact longer.
Your elders will remember a time when they went outside to play hockey on a pond amidst a bit of a blizzard because it was fun, and it provided a new challenge. But remembering an NHL game played in snow?
Other than snowing the goalie, you don't get a lot of that in indoor hockey.
For those watching and those even more fortunate to see it live, it's a special memory—one that's close to the heart of the Winter Classic.
4. Noticing the Landmarks
Live or on TV, you'll recognize everything.
Granted we already went through the fact that it's at Fenway Park (slide number ten...it's not that hard to go back to), but that was more about the atmosphere.
This is more about what Fenway Park is.
Are you going to be able to get used to watching your favorite goalie make a save with the Green Monster in the background?
Sure the short porch in right with Pesky's Pole won't have the same likelihood of catching a puck as it does a foul ball or home run, but it's certainly closer than those Monster seats.
And what of those Monster seats? Imagine watching a game from up there. Now that's a story.
In Wrigley, the most telling feature of the place was Harry Caray's famous face. Obviously mid-winter in Chicago isn't the greatest for Ivy. At Ralph Wilson in Buffalo and Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, there weren't many historical landmarks.
In Boston though, you're going to know where you are. All game long.
Now that's going to be cool.
3. The Celebrations
From the first goal of the game, to Crosby screaming and jumping during his shootout winner, the celebrations at the Winter Classic take it to another level as well.
This year offers something completely new and exciting however.
There are always the standard ideas: you can go sliding across the ice a la Theoren Fleury, you can give the fist pump or the group hug, or you can jump into the boards like Alexander Ovechkin.
But let's take that one step further shall we? What about jumping into the Green Monster like Ovie? What about sliding across the ice like Fleury, into a snowbank where you make a snow angel?
What if, after a team scored, their celebration included a five-man snowball fight? Now THAT'S memorable.
In fact, let's make a change: Instead of a shootout, if a Winter Classic remains tied after overtime, there's no shootout. Instead, it's a team-on-team snowball fight.
Who wouldn't watch that?
2. The Set-up for the Second Half
Usually the mid-way point is measured by the All-Star break, but without one this year it'll probably be measured by the Olympics.
Some however, like to use the Winter Classic.
With rivalry matchups, divisional matchups, and this year, a conference matchup, these act as the precursor for some heated races.
As of right now, the Bruins sit in fifth in the East with 38 points. The Flyers, currently out of the playoff picture, are seven points behind them and two points out of the playoffs.
In the span of the next few weeks, so much can change in a tightly wound race, but the possibility remains that there could be some precursors to the playoffs this January.
Sidenote: This slide was originally titled "Ty Conklin's Streak is Over" as this would be the first Winter Classic that Conks wasn't a member of either team, but a lot can happen in the next few weeks. Maybe the Flyers trade for him, give him the start, then ship him back to St Louis! Anything can happen!
1. The Fun of it All
Whether you're there live, or watching at home with your family on New Year's Day, there's one unavoidable truth.
The Winter Classic is fun.
The opportunities to meet the players beforehand, the ability to see them in a different setting and take in a hockey game in a way that, a few years ago, no one thought was possible.
You're also able to see the players revert in a way. Many analysts complain that the Winter Classic ruins a regular season game that could matter in the standings, but the NFL still goes to London for the regular season and those complaints have begun to dissipate.
In fact, the Winter Classic may enhance the regular season game, but not necessarily from a game play perspective. We see the players in a different light, outside, having fun, playing a game that became like work for them too long ago.
They're playing for the paychecks, but they're also out there playing for us, the fans.
So whatever your normal tradition on New Years, tune in to Boston and make the Winter Classic part of it.