The worst kept secret in hockey was finally made official this week. The third annual NHL Winter Classic will be held at Fenway Park between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Does anyone else feel a little underwhelmed by Gary Bettman and company’s execution on this one? If you had not noticed, than you the un-inspirational elements just show how far under the radar this game really is. Don’t get me wrong, it will still be a success, but considering how it could have been leveraged it misses the mark by so much it might have actually landed the dart in a different time zone.
Fenway Park – The Iconic nature of the ballpark should translate well for hockey, a sport with a rich history. The green monster will probably dominate too many of the TV shots, but still, it will be a cozy event and capture the feel the league is looking to build on. Add in Lansdown Street and the proximity to Kenmore Square and you know there will be enough partying going on to make more than enough memories. Plus, it is Boston and the winter wonderland of New England should make for a picturesque setting much like what Buffalo’s snow globe and Chicago’s Pond Hockey as well as the frostiness of Heritage Classic game back in 03.
Bullies vs. the Blue Collar – Both teams are poised to continue growing on the solid seasons they portrayed last year and the game comes at a pivotal time in the mid-season should keep them invigorated in the Conference, but, more importantly, the propensity of both teams to lay out the donnybrook is there considering Carcillo, Lapierre, Cote, Hartnell, Lucic, Thorton and others. Both are teams come replete with history build on from a brawling ethic that cannot be denied. Yes, there are skills players, but this match up will be most exciting watching the bump and grind dissolve into a bashfest as lines collide, unabashed on the national stage.
Fenway Park – It might be too cozy and old school. The seating is limited at about 37,000 and the walkways hardly exist, plus the layout of the park may not be conducive to all the best sight lines of the ice for the fans. The teams will be squashed, maybe not as bad as some of the other hockey arenas visitor club houses are, but the park isn’t exactly known for it’s accommodations. The announcers will probably focus more on the ivy than on the action and there will be more BoSox references than to the proud heritage of Boston hockey that includes the college and regional minor league teams.
Boston v. Philly – This is not exactly the most historically significant match-up. In Boston, there is but one rival regardless of the sport, New York, and the Rangers are nowhere to be seen. Mayhaps, you could make the argumentation an original-six showing with the Habs might make it more interesting, especially with the Divisional standings. Furthermore, neither team has a quantifiable superstar right now. There isn’t even a key set of strong match ups that they league can leverage in marketing this one. Therefore, it is quite possible, apart from the typical NHL fan and the hometown crowds from each team, three years in, the luster might wear off rather quickly for a fringe fan. Speaking of hometown, both the BoSox and the Phils leading their divisions means there should be baseball well into October in both cities deteriorating hockey’s presence leading into the opening of the NHL season to set this game up (lets not even mention what the NFL and NBA will be bringing to the table come the fall).
NHL Marketing – Let’s face it. There are days you have to wonder if the NHL could successfully market a whore to a horny thirteen year old. First, the leaks felt somewhere between contrived and careless, neither building interest or creating more intrigue. Second, the official announcement coming during the MLB All Star break pretty much ensured burying it beneath the AL’s win, Obama’s first-pitch and the usual critiques of the Buck and McMcarver pairing. Next, the overwhelming lack of any post-announcement hype to re-enforce just how important this game is really supposed to be. The usual hockey aficionados will tune in in droves but if the league wants to build on momentum of years past they have to make each subsequent year feel like it’s even more exciting and not just another rehash (does it seem like sometimes the first few rounds of SCP feel that way to you??) Also, the game is competing for attention with a dominate Patriots franchise and resurgent Celtics team through the fall, so it might be hard to sway fans to pay attention regionally, forget about nationally, beyond the core base.
The Caps v. Habs game at the Olympic Arena – If this game happens as the speculation would have you believe, the 70+k capacity of the building would trump every other “outdoor” game the NHL played and then some. It’ll roughly double the Winter Classic if both sell out, and even though the league will not allow it to get the coverage of the sanctioned game, it inherently will draw a lot of attention. The rumor of a venerated (and completely revamped) Habs franchise versus the (still) upstart Caps who feature the league’s most invigorating player (Ovechkin) is already a better story line than the Winter Classic in some ways.