My beef with the Winter Classic

I remember when they announced the NHL Winter Classic. I was pretty excited. It was a great idea – an outdoor game in a huge venue, giving tens of thousands of fans to watch a hockey game. Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh, and the game was pretty awesome too. Fantastic ending, even if the snow had gotten thick enough that it was tough to see Sidney Crosby’s OT goal. Regardless, it worked for me.

But the Winter Classic is currently on, and by all signs on Twitter is coming to a wild conclusion. And I could care less. And let me show you why:


2008: Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres
2009: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks
2010: Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins
2011: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
2012: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers

Not a single Canadian team has been highlighted in the Winter Classic.

Oh, but you’re reminding me that there’s been two Canadian outdoor games? You’re right! The 2003 Heritage Classic, between the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens, and the 2011 Heritage Classic, between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens, both included Canadian teams outdoors. And that’s…

Anticlimactic.

The Heritage Classic is a huge success for NBC, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve lost patience with it. NBC does hockey terribly. Their announcers are shit, their commentary is bad, and their camera angles are atrocious. It might be great in the US market, but up here, it’s nothing short of bad.

Another reason is the NHL’s inability to move the Classic out of the northeastern USA. The reasons for this are obvious: the most famous teams, the most bankable teams, are those in the northeastern US: Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Philly, Chicago, Detroit (yes, technically east coast teams). To a newer extent, Washington is another team that has a large draw of fans and money. It’s unlikely you’ll see a team like Phoenix play in a Winter Classic sometime soon.

But what about the LA Kings, who are a very popular west coast team, or the St. Louis Blues? Both of those teams have some history, and if you pair it with a city like Philadelphia, New York, or Boston, you’d probably get people out to watch. But if you really wanted to make a Classic worth watching, how about Montreal vs. Boston in Fenway – one of the oldest and toughest rivalries in sports.

And the next time the NHL deems to toss Canada a Heritage Classic, it should be Jets vs. Maple Leafs. Including the Canadiens constantly is a good way to ensure Habs fans will watch, but it’s ignoring the great history of the Leafs that deserves honouring – and you might as well book tickets for everyone in Winnipeg and guarantee a sellout.

Let’s get some respect for the biggest, most hockey-mad country in the world at the NHL’s Premiere Event, please, and bring in a Canadian team at least once. I promise, Mr. Bettman, that it won’t kill your ratings if you do it right.

Update: Okay, that was a hell of a third period. Kudos to the Flyers and Rangers, who put on a fantastic show. That doesn’t mean the event resonates with me – but good hockey always does.

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