Tuesday, January 6, 2009

old acquaintance

As a rabid and cable-, center ice-less hockey fan, I was certainly thrilled by the Classic, as i would have been thrilled by any televised hockey on New Year’s Day. The spectacle offered enough novelty for NBC to trot out the A production team (novelty to spare, even: what was with that weatherman?), and for McDonough to bring in all the old familiar faces (familiar to most of us, at least. Billy Williams or Fergie Jenkins? Dave Strader sez: "all look same"). I’m naturally glad for any attention to the league and to the game not directly inspired by wanton blows to the head, even if it means dovetailing the game of hockey's centuries-long outdoor tradition with the Cubs' torrid record of occasional division titles.

However, I have to temper my enthusiasm a bit, as I’ve seen now in my 15 years of fandom a series of short-sighted gimmicks come and go that fail to bring any lasting status boost to the game (Glow-pucks, Alexandre Daigle, The Florida Panthers, OT shoot-outs, I'm googling at all of you). Watching Chris Chelios
ride the bench with the Hancock Tower in the background was a thrill, but it pales in comparison to the heights of a Game 7 in the finals, or any Game 7, for that matter. When you strip away all of the pomp, this was just a regular season game. It did offer some beautiful moments (Datsyuk’s flight to the net, Ben Eager’s retro celebration), but it lacked the passion, suspense, sacrifice, and strategy which are all on display in any playoff game. This is not to mention NBC’s glaring omission of any analysis that would have brought these things to the average viewer’s attention.

If it means increased ratings, ticket and merch sales, by all means continue the Winter Classic, but it wont go too far to increase people’s awareness of what makes the game truly great like more, better playoff coverage would. This is not to say though, that more of these games shouldn't be played whenever possible if teams and venues are able to put them together. Surely, venues exist in cold-weather, hockey-rabid cities (ie, not NHL cities) that can offer a more suitable, even ideal viewing experience compared to Wrigley. Indeed, the most compelling note sounding through the latest Classic was that the notion of the carpet-concoursed luxury arena-as-optimal-viewing-experience had been delegitimized just a tad. More outdoor games would be more than just a revenue generator, restoring a legitmacy to the outdoor game as a preternatural part of hockey and beyond that of a serial gimmick.

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