Bruins and Flyers put classic in hockey's Winter Classic
Fenway Park’s ‘ice game’ reminded many why hockey is so great, though the indoor game still lacks draw for many.
Why is the NHL’s new Winter Classic tradition the league’s best move since the salary cap?
This year’s outdoor New Year’s Day battle between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers summed it up: Take a classic venue – Fenway Park – impose an inexplicable image (a hockey rink on Yawkey Way), add some snowflakes and some greasy winter light, and it’s an indelible flashback to childhood, at least for those born north of the Mason Dixon line.
Indeed, the Classic accurately defines hockey as a spectacle born of an innocent childhood experience, what Flyer D man Chris Pronger remembered as hitting the pond in the afternoon and finally getting off after many “just 5 more minutes” in a wintery dusk. (Read this Monitor article about hockey's return to its roots.)
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Skate until dark
“This is hockey,” Bobby Orr (he of the sideways goal) told the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, who wangled an interview with one of Beantown’s all time greatest. “We’d go out in the morning and skate in Georgian Bay or on the Seguin River. All of our skating was outdoors. Sometimes you need to be downwind. Our parents just told us to be home for dinner, or when it got dark.’’
But for all its nostalgic and organic pluckiness, the outdoor game also provides a contrast for why the 82-games-per-season indoor game, to an extent, still flounders next to other pro sports.
Fans can argue that the stadium game is too sanitized and showy, too gladiatorial, too impersonal beneath those mono-color helmets. With the game open to the skies, the drama is heightened, and the distance of the crowd and the intimacy of the rink-side cameras make the players seem more human, and each key moment somehow that much more grandiose.
To be sure, the indoor game is far cleaner and more predictable. When the Pittsburgh Penguins played the Sabres in Buffalo two years ago, only three goals were scored, although that could be partly explained by the blizzard bearing down on the Lake Erie shore at game time. Last year’s Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, had 10 goals, many of them showy. On Friday, careful defense reigned as the puck bounced around on the outdoor surface, and kept careering unexpectedly out of the corners.
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Sam Donnellon framed the debate about hockey’s appeal (or lack of) as a conversation with a fictional hockey novice from San Antonio.