99% of the time that we see NHL games live-streamed on our mobile device or your television, they take place indoors in an arena where you have the technology to make the perfect ice and great crowd atmosphere. It also provides protection from rain, snow, warm temperatures plus freezing temperatures. But wait. Protection from snow and freezing temperatures? Yea it seems counter intuitive doesn’t it? After all, the game of hockey was first played outside shortly after it was invented. Before the National Hockey League existed games were already played indoors. It was to accommodate the fans, maintain ice conditions, avoid legal troubles and so on.
If true hockey fans had it their way, every game would be outside but unfortunately Florida and Carolina almost never get freezing temperatures and most of the snow will melt in Canada once playoffs start.
Basically, reality stinks so we have to improvise.
It was decided that hockey needed to go back to its roots like how it was first played in the 1800’s on a small patch of ice where a group of geniuses decided it was a great idea to slap around a 3 inch chunk of rubber with skinny pieces of lumber while puttering around wearing steel blades 5 millimetres wide by 2 inches high. And no I’m not being sarcastic, I genuinely think its genius.
Pretend we’re going back to 2003, the year before the first NHL outdoor game took place in the modern era and we’re asking ourselves this question:
“How do we make outdoor NHL games work?”
In order to make it work, conditions have to be met. First off, the weather has to be cold enough. Second, the technology has to be in place for the ice to hold up in case the weather gets a little warm. It can only take place in December, January or February because it’s obviously cold in those months. Someone has to make money so the owners need to be convinced that it’s a good idea (Fast forward to 2016, every NHL team wants an outdoor game now). It has be made into a massive hyped up event so seats, jerseys and other merchandise will sell out so fans have to express interest in it but most importantly, there has to be an emotional connection for the fans.
I can come up with a million more reasons but you get the drift.
As I am writing this now (February 19th, 2016), both the Stadium Series and the Winter Classics have been insanely successful since the first official Winter Classic in 2008 when Buffalo hosted Pittsburgh. T.V. ratings have been declining slightly for 3 consecutive years but merchandise sales and tickets mostly sell out.
Reason #1: Great excuse for goalies to get new gear just for the game.
Okay there is a greater purpose why the goalies get the gear made just for the big date. Some of the goalies sign them and auction it for their favourite charities and that’s awesome but some of them just want to because you only live once. The outdoor games have truly inspired some great pad designs and goalie masks as well. Just look at Bryzgalov’s 2012 Winter Classic mask when he played for the Flyers. He has some of the greatest Philadelphia sports icons infused in one mask. I think he designed the mask that way because he wanted his mask to be the centre of the universe just for that game but who am I to judge?
Reason #2: HBO’s Road To The Winter Classic Series.
If you haven’t watched any of the ‘Road To The Winter Classic’ episodes, you need to because they are great. If you want to see personality and an in-depth glimpse of the life of NHL players, then look no further than this because it will enlighten you on how some NHL players are really like in their personal lives. You see some of these guys at their best but also, at their worst. Unless you have NHL All-Access or Center-Ice, this won’t amaze you that much but without the Winter Classic, these mini-series wouldn’t exist.
Reason #3: The new jerseys introduced for the game. Some are wacky and very cool.
It’s hard to believe that there are already 29 jerseys introduced between the Stadium Series and the Winter Classics going back to 2008. Why so many? Using the outdoor games is honestly more of a way to test the market for new designs and concepts for jerseys. Only a handful of teams wear these new jerseys once a year outside and maybe a couple more times indoors so why not? The 2015 Stadium Series game between Los Angeles and San Jose were especially a new twist on design because nobody is used to seeing a 3-layered ice cream trifle design on a hockey sweater. Too me, they look better once the game happened when players were wearing them on the ice. The Philadelphia Flyers were inspired to bring back their old uniforms permanently after they were reintroduced in the 2010 Winter Classic against Boston. It was the same case with the 2008 Winter Classic as Buffalo brought back their Winter Classic jerseys permanently.
Most of these jerseys introduced are great designs with a lot of symbolism and have been getting many positive reviews.
Reason #4: Creates unforgettable experiences.
For those that have actually attended an NHL outdoor game, congratulations, I hope you had a wonderful time and I am sure it’s an experience you’ll never forget. For those that haven’t including myself, we’ll get our day eventually and I would go to one no matter how cold it is outside. As is tradition for myself and a couple members of my family and friends, we actually celebrate our very own “Winter Classic Day” by having breakfast while watching the game after a long night of partying. I made this tradition within my inner circle and we love it. Can’t wait until next year and hopefully my favourite team (Winnipeg Jets) will get their date. I don’t even care if it’s just a Heritage Classic, I’d still go.
Reason #5: Great promotion for the game of hockey.
This is perhaps the most ambiguous reason on the list so I’ll explain. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, the main root of hockey is outside on a frozen patch of ice; most likely a pond and that’s how it was first played. It took almost 100 freaking years for somebody to say that maybe a handful of NHL games should be played outside just like the old days when the NHL didn’t exist yet. At first, some of the owners, NHL board members and others thought it was too risky to have an outdoor NHL game at such a big scale. When it was first unofficially tried in 2004 between the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens, it received great reception. Due to the mess the infamous 2005 NHL lockout created, other priorities took over the league agenda and finally in 2008, the first official Winter Classic was hosted in Buffalo as the Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was wildly successful and everybody wanted a piece of that frozen, outdoor money pie. It was successful because big league hockey finally went back to its “roots” and people loved it because it expressed the fans’ emotional and historical connection to the game. The players felt it was an honour to play outside and I truly believe it. The merchandising and marketing of the event was very well done and everybody (Most importantly the fans) were happy at the end of the day.