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.
NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Detroit Red Wings host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can stream the game online here.
The Lightning made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, but their journey almost ended in the first round at the hands of the Red Wings. Detroit shutout Tampa Bay twice in that series and the two squads were locked in a scoreless tie until the third period of Game 7.
Despite the fact that the Red Wings were a mere hair away from advancing instead of Tampa Bay, the Lightning are often mentioned as serious Cup contenders while Detroit is typically regarded as a good, but not amazing team. However, that gap isn’t entirely unjustified.
After all, Tampa Bay has a very effective core of forwards that features Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. If the highly regarded Jonathan Drouin, 20, is able to build off of his strong start to the 2015-16 campaign then the Lightning’s offense could be even more dangerous this season.
Detroit certainly has some offensive star power too in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but the duo is 35 and 37 years old respectively. On top of that, injuries have been a recurring issue for Datsyuk, who isn’t expected to make his season debut until November after undergoing ankle surgery.
As good as those two forwards still are, the Red Wings have to hope that their younger players will be able to lead the charge sooner rather than later. The good news is that 19-year-old Dylan Larkin‘s campaign is off to a strong start with three points in two games while 23-year-old Teemu Pulkkinen scored twice on Saturday.
The Red Wings have opened the season with back-to-back wins against Toronto and Carolina, but tonight’s game represents their biggest test to date. Meanwhile, the Lightning are similarly undefeated after three games, but this contest will be particularly trying for them given that it’s their third game in four days.
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)
While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)
Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)
Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)
The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)
The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)