Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin wasn’t kidding when he said how exciting it was to play in front of millions of hockey fans.
Over the last four years, the Winter Classic proved that it could work in baseball parks such as Wrigley Field and football stadiums such as Heinz Field. Due to some rain-based intervention, Saturday’s event was delayed from the afternoon to prime time. Instead of seeing ratings that plummeted because of this unplanned alteration, Saturday’s Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game instead proved that outdoor hockey can be a ratings success in that coveted time slot.
The 2011 Winter Classic had 4.5 million viewers, the highest number to date for the annual event. The number beat out the 4.4 million viewers the 2009 Winter Classic from Chicago’s Wrigley Field had and was up 22% from the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston. The game was also the most watched regular season game in 36 years.
Maybe it was the high-end star power that comes with featuring Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin. Perhaps it had a lot to do with the amazing buildup created by various promotions including HBO’s outstanding 24/7 series. Then again, it could also have been the natural progression of the league’s progress combined with the improving Winter Classic brand.
Whatever the case may be, the ratings were fantastic for the Winter Classic.
As for how the game did around the country, obviously Pittsburgh and Washington tuned in in big ways, but other cities across the country also tuned in in big ways. Here’s the top 10 cities in ratings and shares for this year’s event in Pittsburgh.
1. Pittsburgh, 32.0/46
2. Washington D.C., 7.6/13
3. Baltimore, 6.6/11
4. Buffalo, 5.3/8
T5. St. Louis, 4.3/7
T5. Denver, 4.3/7
7. Boston, 4.0/7
8. Richmond, 3.8/6
9. Philadelphia, 3.5/6
10. Columbus, 3.4/6
Getting such a huge rating out of Pittsburgh is incredible. While it dwarfs the numbers seen out of Washington, D.C. keep in mind that Maryland and Virginia are also Caps country which is why you see Baltimore third and Richmond eighth on this list. All around, the success of this year’s event is tremendous. With over 68,000 fans at Heinz Field and the TV ratings and viewership being at new highs it’s clear that the NHL has a winning product on its hands.
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Kyle Turris was far from an accomplished NHLer when he requested a trade out of the Coyotes organization. In fact, when he was dealt to the Senators in 2011, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft had just 46 points in 137 NHL games.
Since then, Turris has emerged as Ottawa’s top center, with the promise of a big payday in the summer of 2018 when his current $17.5 million deal expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
It’s for that very reason that he can understand Jonathan Drouin‘s position with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s tough,” Turris told the Tampa Bay Times. “Everyone has mixed feelings, and especially not being an established player. Then people are doubting that you’re doing the right thing, you really have to have confidence in yourself and your ability to do it.”
Though Turris, now 26, took a “lot of heat from the media…and people within the organization” and recalls the time after his trade request was made public as a “tough, tough go,” he believes the opportunity he received with the Sens “saved” him.
As we’ve written in the past, you don’t have to agree with how Drouin is handling things — maybe it ends up hurting him; he still has a lot to prove — but there have been young players who have chosen similar paths, and it’s worked out well for them.
Drouin, by the way, has 40 points in 89 NHL games.