We can all agree the Winter Classic has a certain charm to it. It happens on New Years Day every year (except for the 2012 game) which makes it special. There are no other games scheduled during that time so all eyes are on the two teams at hand. NBC does a great job making it a show and the build up to the event is something special too... see 24/7 on HBO.
(NHL's Winter Classic at Fenway Park. Photo: Sports Illustrated)
Now it seems everyone wants to cash in on the success the NHL has had with the outdoor hockey games but are we running the risk of ruining what made the Winter Classic so great? The market has become flooded with these games and now people are beginning to turn on them.
Last year Atlantic Hockey made the mistake of thinking they were could draw fans to a game simply by placing it outdoors in New England. It was UCONN who hosted Sacred Heart at Rentschler Field, home of UCONN football. The result? Not even 2,000 fans in attendance at the 40,000 seat stadium. Success? I think not.
This year Hockey East has decided to press its luck by following up the successful Boston College v. Boston University showdown at Fenway. This time it will feature four teams not from Boston, a move that makes almost no sense. The early game will feature UMASS v. Vermont, two schools who are at the bottom of the conference and barely snuck into the playoffs last year. They're not rivals and have very little history to play on.
The later game makes more sense, if it were being played in Maine. The University of New Hampshire will play Maine in the late game. Two schools who have a long time ravalry and are usually near the top of the standings when the season ends. It's a great concept for an outdoor game, just like Michigian and Ohio State but having it a neutral site hours away from the schools could make it difficult to fill Fenway.
It's not that I don't like the outdoor games, I do. The Winter Classic has become an annual traiditon for me but the NHL knows its limitations. This year it won't play the game on January 1st because it's the last day of the NFL season and they don't want to compete. The NHL also wouldn't have two teams play in a neutral site, it doesn't make sense.
Hockey is a big sport in New England but I think Hockey East may have gone too far on this one. Hopefully it works out for the good of the sport, the teams and the conference but ultimately, it could end up being a disappointing event and the end of outdoors games as we know them.