For those NHL fans that have been waiting to know where the next Winter Classic will be played, the wait is finally over. The location that was the front-runner all along, Fenway Park, will be hosting the 2010 NHL Winter Classic, according to multiple sources, including ESPN.com and the Boston Herald.
It was anyone's guess as to where the game would be played, with all sorts of locations coming up as possibilities including Fenway, Gillette Stadium, Penn State's Beaver Stadium, the New Yankee Stadium in New York, Coors Field in Denver, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and even the Beach in Los Angeles (cleverly suggested by broadcaster Jim Fox).
With the NHL's new portable unit that can maintain a rink of ice virtually anywhere, the possibilities seemed endless, but in the end the most obvious option was the one that was chosen.
The reports also indicated that it would not be a rival team, such as the Rangers or Canadiens, going up against the Bruins in the game, but instead the Capitals or the Flyers.
Now, it's no surprise to see the Capitals as a top candidate for playing in the Winter Classic, given the electricity they play with as well as the fact that their star player, Alexander Ovechkin, is probably the most marketable player to ever play in the NHL.
Ovechkin single-handedly transformed the Washington hockey market from a joke into one of the strongest ones in the league, and it is more than obvious that the NHL wants him to do the same for the league as a whole.
The Winter Classic's exciting twist on regular hockey causes it to draw a lot of viewers who would never watch a game not involving their team.
In this regard, it makes it a lot like the Stanley Cup Finals, but unlike the Cup Finals, the NHL can put whatever team they feel like in the game, meaning that this would be their best chance to put Ovechkin in the national spotlight.
On the other hand, it's a lot more unexpected to see the Flyers as a final candidate to face the Bruins. The Flyers' have been one of the NHL on NBC's and NHL on Versus' darling teams, but that has really only been due to the size of the Flyers' market.
The Flyers are an up-and-coming team just like the Capitals, but they lack a singular superstar like Ovechkin, and given the reputation of Philadelphia sports teams, they aren't likely to develop that large of a fan base outside Philadelphia.
Now, at first, the Orange and Black were a top candidate to play in the game, but that notion was grounded in the possibility that they would play a rival team like the Penguins or Rangers.
If the game was to be held at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, or the New Yankee Stadium in New York, they would have been an obvious choice to play in the game.
There was an even better-looking proposition by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to have the Penguins and Flyers play the game at Penn State University's Beaver Stadium as a charity event (which would have been a fantastic option, given the fact that the stadium has almost three times the capacity of Fenway Park).
However, for the Flyers to be chosen to face the Bruins is unexpected to say the least.
So, with the location decided on, there's only one more question left to ask:
Flyers or Capitals?
Before we go with the overwhelming obvious choice here, let's consider the circumstances. Last year's game drew a 2.9 national television rating—the highest rated regular season game in 13 years.
This high rating was probably fueled by the popularity of the sitting Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings and the interesting concept of playing a hockey game at Wrigley Field.
It seems likely that the league is would be content sticking with the same formula they used in 2009: first and foremost, play the game in a historic, well-known stadium (using the interesting concept of the game to their advantage).
Secondly, put teams in the game that are the most likely to get people excited about the league. This would suggest that the Bruins were chosen primarily because they play in the same city that Fenway Park is located, but also because they were an Original Six team and were one of the league's top two teams during the 2008-09 regular season.
In this sense, they both play in the right city (like the Blackhawks did) and have been successful this season (like the Red Wings were in the 2007-08 season), meaning that choosing their opponent might take some creativity.
So what exactly was the league thinking about when they decided on the Flyers and Capitals? First off, both of these teams are stocked with plenty of young players who are not only strong hockey players, but are also charismatic and, dare I say, good-looking.
The often prevalent stereotype that hockey players are hulking brutes with half of their teeth missing can sometimes turn people away from the sport. With the league recently starting to shy away from the idea of fighting—perhaps the game's most violent aspects- that could potentially be part of their reasoning here.
This could have led to the league passing over two otherwise obvious choices in the Canadiens (I'm sure anybody wearing an Alex Kovalev, Andrei Markov, or Andrei Kostitsyn mask during Halloween would get at least a few screams) and the Sean Avery-touting Rangers.
On the other hand, the Flyers (sans Riley Cote) would fit in especially well in this regard (if you brought a date to the Flyers' Valentines Day game, then you definitely know what I mean), and the Capitals, aside from Ovechkin, probably would as well.
In addition, both the Flyers and Capitals have a bright future ahead of them, just like the Blackhawks. All three of those teams are going to be good for many years, and the Winter Classic is a great chance to introduce the more casual fan to these teams.
This way, the next time this sort of fan sees a commercial for the Flyers, Capitals, or Blackhawks playing on Versus or NBC, they'll be more likely to tune in than they normally would be.
This would be another reason not to include the Canadiens, or any Canadian team for that matter, because those teams already get plenty of attention in Canada, and aren't likely to generate that much interest from American fans.
All factors considered, it would seem that the NHL seems to be leaning towards showcasing exciting, flashy teams that symbolize the new direction the league is heading in these days.
The Capitals would still seem like the obvious choice, but the fact of the matter is that they already get plenty of exposure. Hockey isn't in as bad of a state as it was right after the lockout.
The NHL gets enough exposure these days that every hockey fan, no matter how casual, already knows about Alex Ovechkin.
The Winter Classic is likely to draw a lot of general sports fans who normally don't watch that much hockey as well as a lot of hockey fans who tend to only watch their favorite team plan—and neither of these groups really needs to be introduced to Ovechkin, because they already have been.
Putting Ovechkin in the game won't really generate any more interest in hockey, because people will watch the game to see him play, and won't really pay attention to much else. "Alexander the Great" is marketable, but pitting him against Fenway Park isn't really all that exciting or creative, and it doesn't make much sense.
The fact that the Winter Classic is played outdoors, not necessarily that it's a showcase of the league's top talent, is what makes it so exciting.
It has a grassroots feel to it, as it brings back childhood memories for so many hockey players and fans while simultaneously showcasing those players (and the teams they play on) in order to get the more casual fan excited about the sport.
That being said, I'm going to have to say that the Flyers, who were unlikely finalists to begin with, are going to be picked to face the Bruins. There is a bit more history between the Bruins and Flyers than between the Bruins and Capitals, and the Capitals already get plenty of exposure thanks to Alex Ovechkin.
Any hockey expert will agree that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are the real deal, but that the Flyers' reputation (grounded largely in that of their home city) tends to hurt the marketability of those players.
In the end, it isn't any one specific strength that makes the Flyers the best choice to play at Fenway, but the fact is that there are compelling reasons not to choose the other teams that could play the Bruins.
The Flyers aren't exactly the favorite team of the league's top governing officials (as any Flyers fan will tell you with confidence), but they're a breath of fresh air—and right now, that's just what hockey needs. For that reason, expect it to be the Flyers facing the Bruins at Fenway Park on New Years Day, 2010.
Who do you think should be facing the Bruins at Fenway Park? Do you think it should be the Flyers, the Capitals, or a different team entirely? Do you think Fenway Park is the right place to hold the game? If not, where do you think it should be held?
The sample rink diagram was originally published in Boston Globe.
Also, check out my NHL Conference Quarterfinals previews, coming soon to Bleacher Report.
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