Happy New Year!
My January 1 tradition usually involves the couch, the remote and the refrigerator. For years, I would dedicate this day to watching the college football bowl bonanza – a football fan’s dream come true. But this year, I never did get around to watching football. Something stole my attention.
That’s right, hockey. I did not watch much of the Rose Bowl, none of the Michigan-Florida showdown in the Capital One Bowl and didn’t bother staying up to watch the Sugar Bowl. My attention was stolen away watching the Winter Classic – the NHL’s most-inspired idea. Imagine playing a hockey game outdoors and inside a football stadium. The Penguins and Sabres did just that one New Year’s Day in Buffalo.
Now, I’m not going to break down the game – that’s why we have sportscasters at channel 4 – rather I’m going to tell you why this idea wound up being the most creative thing I have seen in years and the reason why I attend to renew my love affair with hockey.
Just like the players on the ice, as a kid I would skate on a local pond and play a game of pick-up hockey with my friends. Sometimes it would snow, but that only added to the atmosphere. To watch the pros do the same thing – in a snowstorm at times – did more than remind me of my youth. It made me believe in the error of big money athletes and egos, that players really are kids at heart and put them in an environment like Tuesday in Buffalo, the kid will come out.
71,000 showed up to see the spectacle – and none of them left. They tailgated both before and after the game and they showed an entire nation – on TV – that hockey is more than a fringe sport. It has a loyal following that every now and then needs to be reminded why the game is so great.
I had lost my passion for hockey over the last few years. Maybe because the season is so long or perhaps the team wasn’t very competitive until Sidney Crosby showed up. But after watching the Winter Wonderland on my screen, I want to pick up a stick and play again … and I want one of those baby blue Pens jerseys.
Most of all, I want the NHL not to drop the ball on this one. They have captured the imagination of the country and reinvigorated hockey fans – both passionate and passive. They need to make this an annual event – a New Year’s Day tradition. Just like the Thanksgiving Day NFL games, hockey outdoors on New Year’s will be must see TV .. and take it to other cities. Let Minnesota host it one year, Chicago the next and perhaps even Pittsburgh.
The NHL has come up with a winning idea … and maybe the first steps in making hockey a relevant sport in this country once again.