December 31, 2011 10 Comments
Puck the Media is live in Philadelphia for the Winter Classic Alumni Game, and for the actual Winter Classic on Monday. For more info on the activities, follow me on Twitter @stevelepore.
So I’m standing behind home plate at Citizens’ Bank Park Saturday afternoon at around 4:30 p.m. ET. The hockey is dull, as most of the men playing are in their 40’s and 50’s. We’ve still got another period to go in what feels like a low scoring game (2-1 Philadelphia) for a game that doesn’t count. The thing is, despite all of this, I haven’t seen one person without a smile on their face in the crowd of 40,000-plus. And with everything I’ve ever heard about Philly, that seems like a pretty big accomplishment.
Even if the hockey isn’t great at the Winter Classic alumni game, the spirit certainly is. The only time the color orange will ever be accepted among the hoards of humanity here at Citizens’ Bank Park (as a Mets fan, this is the time when I remind you that baseball is a cruel, unhappy game) and they showed up in spades. Everyone stood for Mark Howe’s penalty shot goal and a 4-1 Flyer win, and created some of the loudest noise I’ve ever heard at a baseball stadium (again, baseball is sad and cruel).
Even if there’s nothing in terms of ratings to gain from yesterday’s Winter Classic Alumni Game, this much is certain: the league got a palpable buzz boost from this year’s game, the second annual event. People were excited just to hear the lineups for this thing. It has officially added a second (if you count practice, third) day to the whole Winter Classic experience. I can’t imagine there’s a way we don’t see this at every Winter Classic from now on.
So the question is this: can we go bigger?
Here’s my proposal. A reminder before-hand that it is merely a proposal and I don’t know how feasible this is, but here you go. The NHL All-Star Game has long been considered a dud by most standards. Though ratings are up, and the All-Star Fantasy Draft has added some fun to the proceedings, one could argue that fans are tired of the game and that we don’t really need to shut down the league three days a season for a meaningless exhibition.
So why not make the day in between the Alumni Game and the Winter Classic a Winter Classic All-Star Night instead? Now, I’m not talking about doing the All-Star Game at the Winter Classic, but here’s the idea: on the night in between the Alumni Game and the Winter Classic, hold the old superskills competition. Invite players from every team (you don’t really need a limit) and hold the skills competition over two hours. Have all of the competitions count for goals between conferences, and hold a period of shinny between the two teams to decide a winner, with both teams donating a substantial amount to charities.
While it could just be a shortened version of the All-Star Game, you’d be taking the parts of it that are widely recognized as being fun, and not over-doing it on the game aspect of things. You could even do a small fantasy draft element of it: name captains (possibly from the two Winter Classic teams) and have them pick it old-school, playground style. Put in on under the lights, in primetime, on NBCSN and CBC on the 31st, with the Alumni Game on the 30th, and you have three days of awesome, fun NHL activities, and you only shut down the league officially for games on two of those days.
This would also force the NHL to keep expanding the Winter Classic to markets that aren’t necessarily going to get it in the immediate future. The Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and other sun belt (and let’s face it, Canadian teams) aren’t likely to be involved in this anytime soon. So get at least one player from every team, and give the fans that cool “my guy made it!” feeling from the All-Star Game, and compound it with the Winter Classic.
At the end of the day, the two teams, filled with legends who have won Stanley Cups, Hart Trophies and Gold Medals (just to start) gathered at center ice for a photo that I’m sure will be autographed and go to auctions for thousands of dollars. It is a true celebration of this wonderful sport’s past. What if, on the next night, you could have that same photo taken to celebrate it’s present and future? This would make the Winter Classic even more of a tentpole, must-watch event every year.