Wednesday afternoon, I had a chance to talk about the Winter Classic with none other than former NHL star, Ed Olczyk, who will be at the Classic covering the game representing NBC. Here are some highlights from the interview...
MR: Obviously the Winter Classic is a huge event, one in which the NHL gets the spotlight primarily to itself. There are huge ratings, a lot of people watching; how do you think the NHL can parlay this into a bigger following?
EO: Great question, Mark. I think that when you look at the facilities, you look at the relationship that the National Hockey League has built up with the National Football League, you know a couple years ago in Buffalo and of course now with Major League Baseball, and then you narrow it down to the Buffalo Bills and the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, I think it’s looking at it and making sure that it does not become just another game when we get it to hopefully 5-6 years down the road.
I think that what makes it real unique is that you are playing in some unbelievable sports markets, you’re playing in some unbelievable buildings and Stadiums, you’re having that attraction of people getting so focused on these particular events, so like, with the Bills and watching the National Football League or Major League Baseball at Wrigley Field or at Fenway, to draw people into it that maybe would not tune into a National Hockey game for whatever reason.
But, to see what it is like to have a National Hockey League rink right in the Short center field right at a particular baseball venue, so I just think that you need prestige, I think you need history, I think that you need the superstars, the up and comers of the National Hockey League to be selling on this time slot and, you’re right, there isn’t a lot going on at that particular time on New Years Day and I think it’s been- if I could use a baseball term- and I’ve used this before, I think it’s been back-to-back Grand Slams for the National Hockey League and being able to sell the greatest game in the world to these particular markets, at these particular venues.
I think that you gotta continue to look at it and I know the League and NBC certainly are doing that so for whether it’s our coverage of having the airplane above to get those unbelievable shots of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, it’s dealing with the elements and I think that’s the one thing that’s as an Analyst, you know how are the athlete’s, how are the Coaches, how are the officials, dealing with the elements? Hopefully we (NHL) continue to get co-operation from Mother Nature.
But, I think it has a lot to do with just keeping it knew, keeping it fresh, getting it different places in the Country and continuing to sell the Winter Classic as it is because it really can become even- no disrespect to all the Bowls- it can become the number one sporting event on New Years Day if we continue to bring that action to all the fans throughout North America.
MR: Since the Winter Classic’s inception, what improvements have we seen? Where are we headed both with the on-ice product and the broadcasting?
EO: ...Sam Flood, our head producer for hockey at NBC, has really done a heck of a job of producing these games. He’s got a lot of help there with his staff, I think the first two years of the games that I have gotten the chance to do, in Buffalo the League (NHL) really did not allow anybody to get on that ice before the teams took the ice the day before in Buffalo to practice.
Then they played the game the next day, so the ice never really got a chance to really tie in, to really work itself into just having normal buildup that you would have a rink, so instead of just going off here and skating and then playing you’re gonna have cracks in the ice, it’s going to get a lot more snowy.
I think from that aspect of it things really changed. Last year in Chicago, and I know setup has a lot to do with it, how early the League was able to get in to Buffalo two years ago compared to Wrigley Field last year where they were able to get in there a good amount of time before because there was no baseball going on so there is nothing to about.
They had people skating on the ice before so the ice had a chance to really settle in and Dan Craig and his staff were kinda able to get that ice (going) and whether has a lot to do with it as well, but from that aspect, that’s the greatest difference that I saw from Buffalo to Chicago was the ice, it was a much quicker, smoother, the elements were not as traumatic as they were in Buffalo compared to Chicago.
If you remember the with the snow buildup and the snow coming down and just really dealing with that, the wind last year in Chicago last year was really perfect, until the third period when where you had the sun kinda in the eyes (of the goaltender) in the one end, but other than that it was a perfect day, the ice was in great condition.
For us, and for me in particular, I can really only speak for myself as an Analyst, it’s just really telling the people about what the players are going through, the elements and less about the stats...The strategic come into it, just to a certain extent if you are handling the elements whether it’s the sun or skating into the wind or the snow, but from my vantage point we’re very close, probably a little bit too close, we lose a lot of the sightline on the near boards because we are so close, but to me I am very envious and jealous of all these players and coaches and trainers, to be a part of this unbelievable event.
For me I think it’s just telling the people what the athlete’s are going through, the differences of playing outside compared to inside, I just think it is dealing with the elements and telling the people the stories of these great athlete’s that we have and how excited they are to be part of something that guarantees them, I mean, there are 28 other teams that would love to be a part of that game on New Year Day in Boston.
MR: Could you ever foresee the NHL having multiple outdoor games, much like the “Super Saturday,” where you may see maybe three games going on, one at Noon, one at Three, one at Seven, say, in Toronto, Detroit, and Calgary and is it possible for the NHL to have an evening game?
EO: If I can answer the question, yes...if I am allowed to fly to all three games but I don’t know if that’s possible, maybe a double-header? I am not sure (if it waters it down), I think it’s very unique to have the one and go on, I think it’s an interesting idea. Maybe one year you do it, maybe you do an East Coast game at whatever time, whatever, maybe a 1:00 Eastern Start, and then maybe you can fly Mountain Time zone and you do a game out there at six so it’s a nine-O’clock game.
So, maybe once, but I don’t think I’d like to see it personally, obviously for selfish reasons. I don’t think you’ll see more than one game on New Years day for the Winter Classic.
And there you have it, one of the most revered NHL players of all-time, Ed Olczyk and his take on the Bridgestone Winter Classic.
A big thanks goes out to the NHL and Ed Olcyzk for allowing me to conduct this interview. Hopefully it sheds some light on the intricacies of the Winter Classic and just how special this event really is.
Don’t forget to tune into NBC to watch the Winter Classic, Jan. 1 , 2010, 1:00 PM EST.
Until next time,