OK, so, um…now what?
No more clichéd commercials with shoddy weather effects, played-out angles and Bob Costas voiceovers.
No more overblown weather forecasts. (Has TIOPS hired Jim Cantore yet?)
No more HBO cameras or 24/7 episodes to tape.
No more Alumni Game.
No more Winter Classic.
At least not for two more years.
(Cue maniacal laughter.)
Thank you, Mr. Price.
“You’re welcome. Now where’s my Canadiens Zippo lighter?”
The ice has been melted and the rinks are coming down. Heinz Field reverts back to football-only mode and the season returns to normal for the Pens, and probably not a moment too soon.
Taken as a whole, the Winter Classic and everything around it turned out to be a great event. The game and all the events leading up to it spawned some fantastic imagery, from the game in prime time to Bylsma in the fedora to the Alumni Game. The community rink that was constructed adjacent to Heinz Field was a smashing success, so much so that the Pens are expected to engage talks with the Steelers about making that rink a regular winter occurrence.
The big game itself? Well, not so much, but let’s qualify this a little. I didn’t attend the game. I watched from the comforts of a living room couch and was unfortunately thus at the mercy of NBC’s producers.
From talking to people who were actually there, it seemed to be nearly unanimous that the whole gameday experience was incredible. Most said the game itself wasn’t great, and that may be in part due to the result or the weather. And I haven’t heard of or read many complaints about the sightlines, but let’s face it – if you expected to have terrific sightlines for something like this and were thus disappointed, this was probably your first hockey game anyway. It was more a testament to the total experience and by those accounts, the event was a success for the league.
Unfortunately, very little of this atmosphere that people who were there experienced really translated through NBC’s broadcast. The broadcast itself was mostly a downer.
For being the NHL’s biggest guaranteed made-for-TV event, it’s at least a little bit ironic that it least resembles the standard product. It’s a risk for the league to do this game – a risk that depends on conditions it can’t control to hopefully come together and create postcard-style imagery combined with decent hockey. In some years, it’ll work. In other years, like this one, Mother Nature treats the NHL’s wishes the way the Pens historically treat the Caps playoff hopes.
And this is where NBC dropped the ball. As the weather worsened through the latter half of the game, the broadcast team made the weather and the ice conditions by far the more prominent points of the game. Emrick is as good as they come for a national broadcast of any sport. But even he allowed himself to focus far too much on the ice conditions and the weather. Olczyk was throwing it down to Pierre McGuire at ice level seemingly every two or three minutes to harp on the ice conditions. After listening to it for the last ten minutes of the second period, it became overkill in the third. Everyone who was watching could see how bad the ice was. Leave it at that and shut up and focus on calling the game.
Imagine being a casual fan watching this game after three weeks of having those Costas voiceover commercials rammed down your throat on NBC. You tune into this game and hear the excessive grousing about the weather, and you probably sit there wondering why the NHL goes through all the trouble to put this game on. That’s how much the broadcast team kept yapping about the rain and the ice surface. If it’s supposed to be about the game, make sure you keep it about the game.
At the end of the day, most hockey fans took from this what it was - a regular season game played on a big stage, but still just a regular season game. This is why Pens fans found it a little bit ridiculous to see Ovechkin fist-pumping and raising his arms to celebrate on the ice with ten seconds still to play. It’s why Boudreau’s postgame comments correlating this with a Stanley Cup elicited the usual eye rolls from Pens fans and non-Caps fans. It was two points lost to a conference rival on a huge stage, but in truth, losing two points to a division foe like the Islanders would’ve been worse.
Just think. Three years from now, we can do it all again.
Other thoughts, dudes…
= As I said earlier, I was confined to the couch for this game. So, too, was Dan Shaughnessy of SI.com and the Boston Globe. But that didn’t stop him from squatting over his toilet and dropping this piece of shit condemning the atmosphere of the game:
How can you accurately comment on the atmosphere of an event when you aren’t actually there?
Take a page from Jimmy Buffett, Dan. “Don’t try to describe a Kiss concert if you’ve never seen it.” And please don’t tell me that being at the Fenway Pahhhhk Winter Classic somehow qualifies you to comment on what happened at Heinz Field. That’s like saying the atmosphere for Super Bowl XLIII (Steelers over Cards…down to the wire) was the same as it was for Super Bowl XX (Bears over Pats, 46-10), just because it had the same “Super Bowl” label tacked on it.
Not even touching the other crap he whines about in that article. Even Bill Simmons thinks Shaughnessy is a joke.
= The Franco Harris/Jerome Bettis shootout was every bit as uncomfortable and awkward as people expected it to be. Yes it was for charity and that’s a great thing. But damn was that awkward.
= From your “FYI, I Have Beat Wholesale Ass For a Whole Lot Less Than That” Department, Deryk Engelland has been granted his three-year membership to the Official Penguins Blueline Club. The Pens on Monday signed the resident defenseman/ass-kicker to a three-year contract extension. Engelland’s cap hit for this year will be $500,000, and then jump to $566,666 for each of the next three years.
= Canes GM Jim Rutherford suggests that Ovechkin’s goal totals for the year are down because he’s making an effort to save himself for the playoffs.
Yeah, because the last time I checked, goals are just like vacation days that your employer lets you roll over into the next year. Didn’t realize that you were guaranteed so many a year and you could save them up for later use.
= What the hell is Rutherford going to say once Crosby figures this out?
= And I guess this means Evgeni Malkin owes us like a 50-goal second half of the season, eh?
The Alumni Game was awesome. It was played with all the intensity of a game of shinny or a weekend pickup game, but that was fine with pretty much everyone who was there. With names like Lemieux, Francis, Murphy, Coffey, Trottier and Stevens involved, they could’ve been playing deck hockey and they still would’ve drawn 10,000 people. Even seeing old Caps like Sylvain Cote & Greg Adams was pretty cool (Adams - Stanley Cup Game One hero in 1994 for the Canucks. Woo!).
This was the first time I ever got to see Paul Coffey skate in person. Getting to see Ron Francis in a Pens jersey for the first time in 10 years was worth the price of admission. And of course, Lemieux stole the show just by his presence.
Yes, they were all several steps slower than we remember…okay, with the exception of Paul Coffey. But isn’t this the same reason the Rolling Stones still sell out concerts? Isn’t this the reason we see some of the bands we grew up with coming back? We know these guys have all lost a little off their fastball. But it doesn’t matter, not one bit. It’s why we collect the old jerseys or play NHL ’94. It’s why we buy the Greatest Games DVD sets or find ways to play the game however we can.
Some might say we invest too much time and energy, too much of ourselves and our emotions in a game. And there’s probably some truth to that. We all could probably spend our time and our resources on more practical things or perhaps more worthwhile pursuits.
But that’s not entirely who I am. It’s not who many of my friends are. It’s not who most hockey fans are.
For me, it wasn’t so much the opportunity to see these legendary players play; it was also the opportunity to spend it with friends who were instrumental in making me a Pens fan. It was about many others connecting with memories of childhood and whatever those connections meant to them. It was about the guy I walked past in the Great Hall, probably late 30’s, clad in a Lemieux early 90s jersey, walking with his son and talking about watching these players. Father and son, equally excited. Tell those two that this stuff is trivial or that it doesn’t matter. Because it’s not about the game or even the players as much as it is the connections and experiences and memories that this game helps create. That’s why it’s worth the time and the emotions and the energy. It’s who we are.