It wasn’t exactly what one would call a winter classic. The third Winter Classic – the second in what appears to be an annual tradition – was held at Wrigley Field, between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.
Given that these two teams are so close in the standings – less than 10 points apart – and their Original Six histories, this was a primo matchup for the league, even if it lacked national appeal.
So given that, it wasn’t a bad game, even if it was a tad dull by the finish, when Detroit held on to win six to four. It was nothing quite as good as last years, sure, but what is?
Call it a side effect if Chicago’s youth movement. They were outplayed by a more experienced team, one able to adapt to the unique circumstances of the game: low temperatures, choppy play and very slow ice. The Wings kept pressure on throughout, and their forechecking paid off with five unanswered goals late in the match.
But for as fast as they started, the Wings kicked into high gear. They dominated the second and third periods, scoring five straight goals. Adapting to ice that made passes slow and erratic, the Wings used a game plan that forced turnovers and kept the puck out of their own end. It certainly worked, as the Hawks only scored once in the final two periods, a power play goal with 10 seconds left.
Playing in his third outdoor game, Wings goaltender Ty Conklin looked good, especially after his slow start – even if he wasn’t wearing his toque this time.
So all in all, it was another successful Outdoor Classic. And somehow, it just felt right to see the Hawks on the national screen again, wearing their throwback uniforms, climbing a set of stairs to get to ice level.
Now that the NHL has staged two of these outdoor games in a row, it appears a tradition is being laid, one that the league would be wise to start. If nothing else, these outdoor games have a unique – almost innocent, if that makes sense – feel to them, one the other leagues can’t seem to create.
But where else can the league take these? After all, it seems most their cities don’t have the right climate for these kinds of games. Certainly anything south of Carolina through San Jose are off the list. Others don’t have a proper venue: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Minnesota don’t have an outdoor facility big enough.
There’s still a few that could work. Ottawa, Calgary, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for sure. Detroit and Boston both have ballparks that are available this time of year.
But what about the city that almost had it this year: New York. Imagine the ice in shallow centre field, with, say, Alex Ovechkin netting a shot in the most famous venue in the most famous city in the country. Wouldn’t that be something special?