The NHL's idea to begin a yearly "Winter Classic" has come to be a great idea in which hockey can be showcased on a national level outdoors in venues that can hold more than five times the people than a NHL arena.
Lets first look back at the previous games over the last few years. The first Classic was in 2008 when the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium where the Buffalo Bills played.
This game could not have asked for anything more by the NHL. Two of the league's top players (Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby) going up against one of the league's best goalies (Ryan Miller). A snowy day ended with an overtime and shootout game, where the NHL's poster player Sidney Crosby won the game in the shootout.
The 2009 game was played at Wrigley Field between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. The game was played on one of the oldest baseball fields in America and setting it up with two of the original six teams added to the hype and excitement for this location and game.
Last year's game we saw the Boston Bruins faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox play. The Boston Bruins won a great hockey game in overtime 2-1. What added to this Winter Classic was after the game, where the United States Olympic men's hockey roster was named. The Boston home crowd got to cheer as their starting goaltender Tim Thomas was named to the roster in front of a loud Fenway Park.
Now it is the holiday season and the 2011 Winter Classic is just a few weeks away. The NHL has chosen to match up Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field where the Pittsburgh Steelers call home.
Now I understand that people will make the argument that the Winter Classic is all about the atmosphere and being a part of something that is more than just the hockey game, but being able to be outside and all the festivities that has come with the Classic.
My main argument and thing that does not make any sense to me are some of the places that the NHL has chosen to play these games in. The NHL needs to look into where games are going to be played at, and start to cross certain stadiums and ball parks off the list.
Baseball fields should never have a hockey game played on it, simple as that. If you watched the two games that were played at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, people were way too far away from where the rink was built.
During the games, the camera would pan out to a part of the stadium where people were sitting, and you could barely make out the puck let alone follow it and the game.
The dimensions of a baseball stadium alone just does not make sense to play a hockey game there. I understand that the two ballparks are part of American history and that they are relics pretty much in the baseball community, but they just did not work for a hockey game.
NFL stadiums are the key choice for the NHL to use. They can hold around 65,000 plus fans, which means more revenue for the NHL and the two teams competing.
I do have a problem with the NFL stadiums as well. Do not get me wrong they are the best choice to hold a game, however things could be tweaked just a bit to maximize and make the experience better.
A NFL field is 360' long (including the endzones and 70'9" wide. An NHL rink is 200' long by 85' wide. With these dimensions you have a lot of empty space on the grass.
If you take the NFL sidelines into account and think just how far back to where general seating is people are fairly far away from where the game is actually being played.
One fix of this is to add seating on the ground, kind of like floor seats to a concert. This adds possibly another 1500 people or more to the game and gives people the chance to watch the game outside but still get the effect that you are in a hockey arena watching the game.
In the future, the NHL needs to really focus on picking venues where people are going to be watching the game. I realize that they are trying to make all people and cities happy by choosing places that have history behind them, but sometimes sacrifices need to be made to ensure that the Winter Classic remains a mainstream event for along time.
The NHL has something to showcase every year that people want to watch, attend and be a part of every year. Just a few tweaks here and there, and I believe that the NHL Winter Classic will be even better than the previous three have been.