Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Winter Classic

In addition to the accolades I gave out earlier this week, kudos also go to the NHL, NBC, and the people of Buffalo for putting on a great event New Year's Day. The Winter Classic was enjoyable to watch in so many ways. I don't think that snowfall during these games should always be desired, but for this inaugural game, it certainly added the Wonderland aspect to the Winter. The classic uniforms looked terrific. The players showed contagious enthusiasm for the event. And the crowd was second to none in its hearty spirit. My appreciation for the outdoor display was such that I started thinking some crazy thoughts...Every team should play an outdoor game every year! Wait! Every team should have a designated outdoor arena and play multiple outdoor games every year! They can have an indoor home schedule and an outdoor home schedule! What if the NHL became a mostly outdoor league? I told you they were crazy ideas.

All that being said, it struck me that the Winter Classic was really programming for the hockey fan. I'm not sure that it accomplished much in the way of conversions. After the initial appeal of the spectacle wore off, it was easy to see how the slower pace and the numerous interruptions to clean and repair the ice could have caused the non hockey fan to lose interest. For all the Sidney Crosby hype, he wasn't that noticeable for long stretches between the first goal and the shootout clincher.

In contrast, it may have been the slower pace that added something special to this game for me. The game seemed more pure, maybe because the playing surface, while literally bumpy, was figuratively more even. With everyone competing against the elements, it was all about giving the extra effort, staying focused, and persevering.
Maybe watching the Islanders having to grind it out for so long has changed my perception of the game. Plus, it was nice to actually see the puck wind around the end boards and have the goalies be able to play it without looking like they were trying to hurdle the net to get there in time.

Based on the early response, I imagine we will see the Winter Classic again. How soon? Assuming the right people made the right amount of money, probably next January 1. Some have suggested that only the All-Star Game should be played outdoors. That's not a terrible idea considering that playing outdoors does introduce an element of inconsistency to the schedule, let alone the game itself. But I imagine that most Islanders fans would like to see their team compete on such a stage.

The Islanders have two things working in their favor to get the nod: (1) Their own enthusiasm for making it happen; and (2) The fact that their rival happens to be a team that the networks love to put on TV. On the other hand, I think the networks have become wary of featuring New York-centric sporting events because they don't seem to garner significant interest across the rest of the country.

Despite my interest in the Winter Classic, I did wander away from the game at one point, leaving me with a dilemma for a couple of hours. FSN, in what can't be characterized as a great counterprogramming move, was airing a documentary called Ice Kings, which tells the story of the fabled Mount Saint Charles Academy hockey team. It was difficult to stay away. Mount Saint Charles won the Rhode Island Boys Division I (as it is now called) Hockey State Championship every year from 1978 though 2003. In other words, take the 26 World Series championships earned by the Yankees in their entire history and put them back to back to back to back get the picture.

This was such a compelling story. I won't get into too many details but one of the most outstanding themes was the pressure these kids felt not to be the ones to break the streak once it started getting up there. You just keep asking yourself, how does one school win 26 consecutive championships? There was also a strong Islanders tie to the story. Garth Snow, Bryan Berard, and Mathieu Schneider all played for Mount Saint Charles during their run. I managed to catch interview segments with Snow and Schneider during my flipping. If you have the opportunity to catch this documentary, I definitely recommend it.

One thing I wondered about was what happened to the program after they finally lost the streak? I suspected that repairing a break in that kind of momentum wouldn't be easy. This page confirmed my suspicion...Mount Saint Charles has not won another state title since the streak ended. But take a moment to scroll through that list of champions. Seeing the streak in print is really something.

Almost time for the Islanders and Panthers to get underway...enjoy the game!

1 comment:

Dominik said...

Wow, excellent story about the high school hockey team. I had no idea, thanks for pointing that out.

And of course I echo your thoughts on the Winter Classic; that was great. The slowed-down, in the snow, pond-hockey feel added to the joy.