NHL report with Daniel Dullum: NHL provides not one, but two enjoyable outdoor games

January 3, 2017

NHL

January 01, 2017: Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (39) falls down on Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen (31) during the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic between The Toronto Maple Leafs and The Detroit Red Wings at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeat The Detroit Red Wings 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory credit: Kostas Lymperopoulos/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

NHL COMMENTARY
By DANIEL DULLUM
Sports Radio Service
Monday, January 2, 2017

Hockey fans received a bonus this season – two outdoor games over the New Year’s weekend. Having Jan. 1 fall on a Sunday made it an easy decision for the NHL.

Because Sunday’s game between the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings ran opposite pro football, it’s hard to say how ratings went for that one. I’ll say this: those who blew off that game to watch football missed a good game.

Then on Monday, that threat of rain in the St. Louis area held off enough to allow the Blues and Chicago Black Hawks to play a close game that didn’t get out of hand until midway through the third period.

There was legitimate concern about a heavy rain holding up the Blues-Black Hawks game at Busch Stadium, but aside from a few sprinkles, the NHL avoided what could have been an embarrassing situation.

This matters because the outdoor games have provided the NHL with their strongest ratings for regular season contests. With the addition of the Stadium Series, there is a danger of having too much of a good thing, but after the league hosted a successful outdoor contest last year at Dodger Stadium, that opens the door for warm weather venues to possibly host one of these games.

For example, could the Arizona Coyotes host a Winter Classic? They could, as long as it’s a night game held in December or January. Then there’s the X-factor – the visiting opponent. It would have to be from a fan base that travels well, like Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, etc. Then it could be at Chase Field, or Sun Devil Stadium. Anyone else, and they could play it at a spring training park.

So, for now, the NHL makes sure the venues are in hockey-friendly markets. Makes sense for attendance in a gate-driven league, and it provides a better image for television.

As for this year’s games, one went into overtime, and the other came close. On Sunday in the Centennial Classic at BMO Field in Toronto (home of the CFL Argonauts), the Maple Leafs had what seemed like a safe 4-1 lead until the Red Wings stormed back to tie it up and head for 3-on-3 overtime.

In the OT, 19-year-old Auston Matthews, who scored the fourth Toronto goal, one-timed a rebound for the game-winner.

Weather affected the game, but it was the lack of cloud cover – sun glare off the ice forced the NHL to move the start time 30 minutes. Other than that, the Leafs and Wings had a good surface to play on with pleasant conditions.

In St. Louis, Vladimir Tarasenko scored two of the Blues’ four goals late in the third period of their defeat of Chicago. As NBC’s Doc Emrick pointed out, the fog was so thick you couldn’t see the nearby Gateway Arch. The threat of rain didn’t deter over 46,000 fans from showing up.

A nice moment from the first intermission – NBC’s Bob Costas, during a feature on Blues history, pointed out that Dan Kelly – the Blues’ play-by-play voice in their early days “was the Doc Emrick of his day.” Kelly would been in his element with the Winter Classic.

What gets lost amongst the hoopla and hype that surrounds these games is that they count and the two points matter. Chicago still leads the Central Division. But by winning, the Blues pulled to within four points of Minnesota for second place.

Ten years in, the novelty of playing a regular-season game outside in a baseball or football stadium should have worn off by now, but it hasn’t. Aside from playoff games, the annual Winter Classic has become the one game most players want to experience. It takes them back to their younger days of playing pond hockey or park league games outside in the elements.

And for an afternoon, players on both sides get to experience a special element of nostalgia inherent to hockey that can’t be duplicated in any of the other major sports. The players dig it, fans love it, and it’s something the NHL gets right.

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