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Winter Classic – Pass or Fail?

We’ve seen the same commercial on many networks for the past few months.  We see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin standing across from each other at Heinz Field as the elements come pouring down on them.  Two faces of the NHL stand ready for battle.

Yeah, too bad these two players didn’t factor on the scoresheet in this game, and the marketing was so focused on these “factors” where they weren’t even factors in the game to start with.  Crosby had a couple of nice passes on his typical move to the point, but that’s about it.  Ovechkin had a goal waved off with four minutes left in the third.

There were quite a few things I found that were wrong with this Winter Classic.

The first was location.  Pittsburgh, and not only Pittsburgh, but a relatively new arena in Heinz Field.  In the past, Winter Classics were held in classic venues like Ralph Wilson Stadium (built in 1973), Wrigley Field (built in 1914), Fenway Park (built in 1912)

…but Heinz Field?  That was built in 2001!  It doesn’t seem like a classic venue by any stretch.  Part of the feel of the Winter Classic dealt with these classic venues.  It added a special ambience that the NHL could build on.

Also, Pittsburgh again?  I mean, give us hockey fans a break and give us something else.  Rumor has it the Flyers and the Penguins may be going at it in a Winter Classic next year.  Yeah, sure, ratings, yeah, I’ve heard it before, but come on.  Even if it’s the Flyers in another classic, I won’t be the slightest bit happy.

Other teams deserve a chance.

Secondly, the marketing for this game was so off.  I mentioned this earlier, but the marketing for this game dealt with two players, and that’s it.  The Winter Classic proved hockey’s truest fact—it is a team game; it won’t be dominated by these two players all the time.  Eric Fehr and Mike Knuble factored in the scoring for the winning Washington Capitals.

I’m pretty sure first-time viewers were thinking Ovechkin would give you a hat trick in this one.  But I didn’t notice him over any other player out there.

Thirdly, this rivalry has needed so much exposure to exist…it doesn’t feel like a rivalry.  Back in the day, the Flyers had a huge rivalry with Boston, but they didn’t need constant media exposure to make it happen.  How about when Detroit and Colorado had those gigantic battles back in the day.  That was a real rivalry fueled by team star power, and some really key moments.

It’s the soundbites, it’s the Kris Draper hit, it’s the Claude Lemieux fights, it’s the drama, the multiple playoff series, and the lack of media shoving that made this rivalry a possibility.  It’s deep-rooted, it’s dramatic…but this rivalry doesn’t make much sense.

For example, someone tweeted at me yesterday saying “this fighting at the end of the game = a rivalry”.  I told him, what about when the Flyers and the Senators had a line brawl?  I can barely say the Flyers and Senators are rivals.  He told me “you know that fighting is only one part of a rivalry”.

Yeah, well you told me fighting equals a rivalry!  Geez…

Listen, the NHL has been cramming this “rivalry” down our throats.  We have to hear Crosby vs. Ovechkin all the time.  And for HBO dramatics, the “hate” between these two teams may be completely fake and for dramatics.  All this “rivalry” has going for it is one seven-game playoff series and a few good regular season games.

This rivalry needed to grow on its own.  It didn’t need all of this exposure to create this picture that may not exist.  It’s called agenda-setting.

My last complaint with this year’s Winter Classic was the weather.  The prime time thing was genius, sure, but it wasn’t supposed to be like that.  The rain fell for most of the game, dictating a very slow pace of play, and beyond terrible ice conditions.  The stars didn’t have time to shine because they were too worried about which way the puck was rolling.

If you’re gonna play, play when it’s either snowing, or it’s clear.  The rain made it look like hockey was impossible.  And honestly, the fact that these players were checking every single move before moving because of the rain made the game slow, and boring.

First-time hockey viewers wouldn’t want that.

I honestly thought it was the weakest Winter Classic, and it was not a fun game to watch.  The game needs a classic venue, two teams with a rich history, and two teams with a developed and time-tested rivalry.  Nothing made up.

Here’s to next year.  Hopefully not including anyone that has had one already.

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