If you don’t get your fill of outdoor hockey this year it’ll only be because you didn’t bother to try and find it at all. While the NHL will have the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on January 1 and the Heritage Classic in Calgary on February 20th (with a tie-in game between the WHL Calgary Hitmen and Regina Pats) there will be yet another outdoor game coming your way this season.
The WHL Spokane Chiefs will take on the Kootenay Ice in a game at Avista Stadium on January 15th, bringing the grand total of outdoor games to be played this year to five. The NCAA will also have an outdoor game this season as well, pitting the University of Michigan against Michigan State at UM’s Big House on December 11th, a game they’re expecting to have over 100,000 fans attend.
So now the inevitable question: Is this too much of a good thing? With the NCAA having done outdoor games for a while now, and the NHL having done them since 2003 (the first Heritage Classic took place in November 2003 in Edmonton) it’s clear that the ability to do these games on a consistent basis has found a way to make things manageable to do even at the junior levels. Is this the sort of thing that will lose its luster if it’s overdone? Depends on who you talk to.
Doing these sorts of events at different levels with varying amounts of media exposure allows the fans to enjoy these things at those levels. Obviously the NHL’s two games this year will garner most of the attention because those games are happening with huge media attention. The NCAA game at the Big House will likely draw the largest crowd ever to see a single hockey game, but it’s not going to dominate the headlines the way a Sid v. Alex Winter Classic will, nor should it. To put it differently, there’s nothing wrong with the game of hockey turning a single game into a major event for the fans. Sure, folks will worry about the weather and ice quality and potentially really bad view from distant seats, but that comes with the territory.
It all boils down to having the chance to sell a lot of tickets for a single game to help make those teams a lot of money. That might not be the full motivation at the NHL level, but you better believe it is for both the WHL and the NCAA. If fans don’t mind shelling out the bucks and braving the cold, it’s something leagues will keep doing. Anyone thinking that the NHL is going to go into overkill mode by trying to do outdoor games in Texas and Florida are likely also spending their weekends shouting at clouds just to have something to yell about.