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NHL Winter Classic, Let’s Save Hockey
In my opinion, the Winter Classic is one of the top ten sporting events every year. Hockey… outside… snow around the rink, what’s not to love? While the pre-game festivities were about 37 minutes longer than necessary, I enjoyed most of the hoopla. Bringing back legendary players, reviving the rivalry and playing hockey on a frozen lake all created a special atmosphere.
(By the way, the Winter Classic proves that games should be played outdoors whenever possible, especially in cold weather. Football, playoff baseball, and the Winter Classic enjoy louder, more passionate crowds than basketball, indoor hockey, and summer baseball. Why? Because in most cases outdoors It’s totally cold. You can try it yourself if you want. Go outside and put a chair in your yard. Now just sit there for three hours. You’ll be angry and bitterly cold in 45 minutes. Now do the same thing but instead of sitting there, jump around and scream like an idiot. Talk. You’ll lose track of time. The only problem here is if your team is losing. Losing subtracts another 20 degrees from the air temperature. Almost like wind chill, only it’s a losing chill. I digress.)
The winter season is the Super Bowl of the NHL. At least one day a year (part of a day, actually) the NHL takes center stage. (If you’d rather be watching college football, I’m sorry. Not sorry for saying the NHL is center stage. You were watching college football. Sorry.) The Flyers-Bruins game was captivating from start to finish. The play was physical, scoring opportunities were plentiful (yes, more goals wouldn’t have hurt), and we had suspense. Close it off with the players’ breath and the steam of the snow flurries; And you have hockey heaven. I felt dizzy.
Since its inception three years ago, the Winter Classic has been a success. Yes, ratings are down this year, but I attribute that to New Year’s Day, which falls on Friday. Most people usually sit around 1 because they have work the next day. 2010 was different. Regardless, the NHL’s marquee exhibition is, and for the first time in nearly a decade, prevailing. We can just sit back and watch the NHL take off, right? wrong The NHL still needs help to regain its place among the four major sports in the United States. Allow me to light the way.
Eliminate inter-conference play. NHL hockey (like any sport) is at its best when the intensity is high and the rivals face off. Nobody cares to see how Pittsburgh fares versus Nashville or Columbus. Fans want to see Sid the Kid take on the Capitals as often as possible. Put the Devils and Flyers on display more than six times each year. The league took steps to expand intra-conference games a few years ago, now it’s time to go all the way. It will take time for the rivalry to fully develop. However, as the teams play more frequently, the rivalry will grow and fans will be treated to more intriguing matchups over the course of a season. The league doesn’t print money either so the travel savings will provide an added advantage.
Downsize and move some current teams to Canada. This is just in; Canada loves hockey. Six franchises aren’t enough for a country to sustain an entire NHL. I’m not the first to come up with this solution, so I won’t pretend to be a genius. If you were to poll 1,000 sports fans, how many of them could name hockey teams in Atlanta, Columbus or Nashville? Also, why in the world does Florida have two hockey teams? Snowmobile outfitters don’t set up shop in Arizona or developers build golf courses in Minnesota. The NHL needs to embrace the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and rid the South of hockey. I would allow Florida to have one team, St. Louis to keep the Blues, Hurricanes to stay in Carolina, and Texas to have one. That’s five, possibly six teams to get north of the border. I am also in favor of downsizing. Although, I can’t imagine the NHL will admit they’re screwed to that degree.
Change the season completely. Currently, the NHL’s Stanley Cup competes with the NBA playoffs and Major League Baseball. Until hockey gets its early 90s status, it’s a losing battle. Every sports nut like me knows that there is a huge sports hole on the calendar; February to mid-March. The NHL needs to shorten its season to 60-70 games and start play in late August, keeping the playoffs and finals in February and early March. Taking advantage of this massive lull could bring the NHL more fans and monopolize the interest of the sports world, with the exception of NASCAR once a week. (Both college and professional basketball don’t heat up until mid-March and late April, respectively.) That’s not all. Scheduling the playoffs at that time would allow the NHL to feature the Stanley Cup Finals outdoors! Obviously, this will depend on the teams involved, but what a spectacle it will be. The NHL can save February for all of us and return to the national limelight at the same time.
Gary Bateman, I am currently employed but I am willing to implement these changes on your behalf. I can start right away. No need to thank me. For the first time in my entire life, I don’t have to sports-hibernate.
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