For the last couple of years the NHL has been overdoing it with outdoor games
When the Montreal Canadiens visit the Boston Bruins on Jan. 1 at Gillette Stadium for the 2016 Bridgestone Winter Classic, the National Hockey League believes that it will be a historical and exciting moment.
But will it really?
There was never a regular season NHL game played outdoors until 2003, when the Edmonton Oilers hosted the Canadiens in the first-ever Heritage Classic. In -20 C weather at the Commonwealth Stadium in Alberta, the Canadiens beat the Oilers by a score of 4-3 while goaltender José Théodore famously wore a Canadiens toque over his mask for the entirety of the game.
Playing outdoors was new and exciting for the players and fans alike, causing the game to be a success.
The Winter Classic officially began in 2008 when the Pittsburgh Penguins travelled to Buffalo, NY to take on the Buffalo Sabres outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the home of the Buffalo Bills.
Over 70,000 fans were in attendance, prompting the league to renew the Classic for 2009, where the Chicago Blackhawks faced the Detroit Red Wings in Chicago, IL.
And so the annual Winter Classic was born, and it was exciting for fans watching it live or on television—until just a few years ago.
Basking in the success and subsequent profits that the outdoor games brought in, the league kept creating more. The Winter Classic used to be the only outdoor game per season, but this has changed with the creation of the Stadium Series as well as the continuation of the Heritage Classic.
In the 2013-2014 season, the league had an all-time high of six outdoor games being played with one Winter Classic and five Stadium Series games.
Although outdoor games still bring a level of excitement to hockey fans around the world, they’re just not as exciting as they once were. As a young girl, I was so excited to be watching the Canadiens in the 2003 Heritage Classic. It was special and new.
When the league announced their 2016 Winter Classic plans, I kind of shrugged and said “eh, that’s fun.” The hockey fan inside of me has never diminished, but I was significantly less excited than I was as a child.
The point of outdoor games are to bring hockey back to how it was traditionally played, on frozen ponds and lakes, where players had to bundle up to protect themselves from not only the puck and sticks but the cold as well. This is the hockey that fans play themselves every winter.
When Steve Webb, the NHLPA’s divisional player representative said in an article on NHL.com that “the Bridgestone Winter Classic on New Year’s Day will make for a very memorable game for the players as well as many sports fans in attendance at Gillette Stadium and those watching on T.V.,” I had to disagree.
To me, the game will not be as memorable as the league is making it out to be. The game will simply blend in with the other two outdoor games scheduled for this season.