Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Winter Classic on Broadway

According to the New York Daily News, the NHL is in discussions to have the 2009 Winter Classic in New York at Yankee stadium. Yankee stadium will be demolished at the conclusion of the current baseball season so if it happens, the last event to take place at the famous ballpark will be a hockey game. New York seems like a logical choice for such an event. It has not one but two hockey teams and a relatively rabid fan base to support each. Yankee stadium first opened in 1923 with a capacity of 58,000. Multiple renovations over its 8 decade life span allowed capacity to climb up over 71,000 before ultimately resettling at the 57,545 mark. This is considerably smaller than Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the previous Winter Classic was held, but it still provides for a remarkable audience and another potentially important day for the growth of the sport.

The NHL claims that it's not a done deal and that other locations are being considered, but I'm starting to get the feeling that New York is the clear target. I was hoping for Chicago, simply because I live near the Windy City, but while the fan base is quickly returning to the Blackhawks they still have a little ways to go before truly emerging from what can only be described as the dark ages of Chicago hockey. A Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks game would have been classic seeing as how that rivalry is starting to build and the geographic relationship between the two teams guarantees a mixed and intensely loud audience. Regardless of my own personal, selfish desires it's looking more and more unlikely that I'll be taking the train to see the game.

The next big question, once the location is nailed down, is who will get to participate in the spectacle. Obviously the New York Rangers would be one team, but would we get a New York Islanders at New York Rangers match up? It's a classic rivalry, but it might not bring in too many fans outside of New York. I'd be surprised to see the Buffalo Sabres participate again since it makes sense to spread the game throughout the league, increasing the chances of snagging new viewers. I think we're more likely to see the Philadelphia Flyers out in the cold, battling the blueshirts. Both teams have the stars and fan base to carry the event and the natural snarl of a game between these division rivals makes for great entertainment. Would the NHL want to see Sean Avery or Colton Orr and Riley Cote go a few rounds on the closest hockey gets to prime-time television? I think they may quietly cringe, but a crowd of 50,000 plus would most certainly prove them wrong with approving roars should the gloves come off. More people love that side of hockey than stay away because of it, that's just a fact, and a hard hitting, fast-paced, gritty game on a mainstream cable channel might just be exactly what the NHL needs right now. That and, of course, the dissolution of the Versus deal.

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