The bitter cold. The biting wind. The frozen face paint and half warm mitts that grasp onto cups of cold beer. Snow, rain, clouds, or sun. People will pay hundreds of dollars to attend the holy grail of regular season hockey games; the Winter and Heritage Classics. The Classics are not so much about the score and NHL standings as they are about bringing the game back to the icy roots. After all, almost every hockey fan can remember the time they fumbled with cold fingers to lace up a pair of skates or played their first game of shinny. Hockey is played in thousands of rinks around the world, but perhaps the best games are the ones that are outside, where players not only battle each other but also the elements. The Classics add a factor to the game that occasionally gets lost in the dry cold of a painted arena. They enhance the exhilaration and allow the fans to get right back into the icy love of the game.
January 1st 2015, will mark the 7th annual Winter Classic game. As per tradition it will be held on New Years Day. The Chicago Blackhawks will face off against the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. The game will be an interesting matchup as the two powers come to head. With ticket prices ranging from a couple hundred to over $1700, the game sets itself apart as the outdoor hockey event of the season. Last years Winter Classic saw the Toronto Maple Leafs carve it out 3-2 against the Detroit Red Wings. The game, held in Ann Arbor Michigan, set an attendance record of 105,491 and a national viewing record of over 8 million people. But what makes it different than the Heritage Classic?
The Heritage Classic started off as the first NHL outdoor game and so far has been played exclusively in Canada. The Classic was born out of Michigan University’s ‘Cold War’ game against Michigan State in 2001. With the first Series game played in Edmonton in 2003, the three subsequent games have served as inspiration and counterparts to the predominantly American Winter Classic. The 2015 Heritage Classic is reported to be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Winnipeg Jets. Come snow, shine or minus 30, those stands will be full of branded toques as fans exuberantly cheer on their team.
The Classics were a moment of brilliance. Give the fans what they want. Let them bask in the excitement of the game. Bring them back to the basics. The NHL is arguably the best hockey that you can watch, but sometimes there is an element missing. It becomes a political arena as the the details of player’s contracts, inner team rivalry and pushback against management are tossed around on the ice. The bloodthirsty fans fuel the fires through heckling not only rival teams but also their own, demanding perfection. The Classics are a step away from that and let everyone, players, fans and management alike, get back to what they love, plain old hockey. Stompin Tom Connor succinctly sang about how ‘ the good old hockey game is the best game you can name and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game.’ So go to a Classic (if you have a few hundred dollars to spare) and just enjoy the good old hockey game.
Highlights from the 2014 Winter Classic – Toronto Maple Leafs vs Detroit Red Wings: