Alright, NHL, why don’t we just move the entire league outdoors?
At this rate, maybe that’s what commissioner Gary Bettman is thinking.
Hockey fans love the idea behind the National Hockey League’s annual “Winter Classic” for what it is: a one-off showcase featuring the game’s best and brightest skating in a unique, open-air venue.
It started five years ago in Buffalo when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the hometown Sabres 2-1 in a shootout on New Year’s Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
While we don’t like to generalize, it seemed each of the 71,217 fans enjoyed the spectacle of watching a hockey game as the snow fell around them.
That led to games in subsequent years at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Fenway Park in Boston, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and McMahon Stadium in Calgary.
Next year, the NHL will take over Michigan Stadium near Detroit, back to Chicago, BC Place in Vancouver, host three games at Yankee Stadium in New York and — what’s sure to be the most intriguing — a tilt between the Anaheim Ducks and LA Kings … at Dodger Stadium.
New York’s games, announced today, are the most recent. Should we expect more in the coming days?
Probably (hopefully) not, but you might not get that feeling by listening to Bettman.
“The innovative nature of the Stadium Series affords the opportunity to have all three NHL teams in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area play, outdoors, at one of the most-recognized stadiums in the world,” he said in a press release.
“We’ll be able to create a multi-faceted, multi-day experience for our fans, and we thank the teams … for their support of this memorable NHL event.”
New York’s Islanders and Rangers and the New Jersey Devils will all play each other at Yankee Stadium, a venue that holds 50,000-plus for baseball.
They’ll play in late January, as something of a precursor to NYC hosting the Super Bowl a few days later.
The trouble for the NHL is this idea is going to get old very quickly.
While unique, playing hockey outside is tough, and it’s not just because of global warming or climate change.
You can’t just flood the pond like they do in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, or northern Ontario’s Thunder Bay.
You need massive trucks that run huge power plants to pump coolant through pipes under the ice floor.
Even then, the ice surface isn’t ideal and often has cracks or doesn’t freeze hard enough, like it did at Wrigley Field in Chicago four years ago.
Puddles in the corners don’t make for exciting hockey.
Imagine what happens in California next January 25? They plan on using special insulated reflective blankets will prevent the ice from melting.
“When the sun comes up in the morning we will put reflective insulated blankets on top of the surface,” ice maker Dan Craig told NHL.com. “When the sun goes down, we remove the blankets and then we will continue to make ice overnight.”
Cute, sure, but with seven outdoor games on the schedule next year, the novelty of outdoor professional hockey is melting faster than a Fudgesicle in July.