When the puck drops on January 2 at Citizen’s Bank Park it will mark the fifth occurrence of the Winter Classic. The event has gone from a fledgling experiment to a made-for-TV goldmine that competes with other major sporting events.
The Flyers and Rangers clash will take place in the third baseball stadium and be the second-straight time that a previous participant appears in the Classic. Only one instance involved teams from the Western Conference.
The event as a single entity is beyond brilliant. Not only is it a perfect television product, it easily draws casual fans to the sport. In addition, thrusting the game back into its natural environment provides added drama; not only due to the venue but the potential monkey wrench the weather can act as. Since the league cherry picks the best possible foes on a yearly basis, there is almost no way to fail. However, there have been a few contests that fared better than others.
Considering all of the outside forces that impact this brilliant event, it is largely a roll of the dice each season. While last year’s game was the first to truly be affected by weather, the other events went off without a hitch. In addition to weather, the venue, the teams and the actual game all factor into the overall product in the end. Here is a rundown of where each Winter Classic stacks up:
1. Wrigley Field: Nothing quite compares to the friendly confines. Between the old-school ballpark and the stands on the rooftops, the atmosphere in the stadium and around Wrigleyville made the second Winter Classic’s venue the best of the bunch. Not to mention, the ice surface was idea thanks to the weather.
2. Fenway Park: Fenway shares the same mystique as Wrigley does. Wrigley’s ice surface and general atmosphere offers an edge over Fenway. Plus, being the second ballpark works against Fenway too.
3. Heinz Field: The ice surface was poor due to the weather. It is the nicest football stadium of the two used for a Classic. The fans were loud and raucous. Still, it didn’t have the same atmosphere as the two ballparks before it.
4. Ralph Wilson Stadium: The Ralph is a friendly place, it is also run-down and somewhat dingy. The ice surface was pretty average – thanks to the old ice making equipment that has since been replaced. However, the Ralph did offer a perfect venue for the original Winter Classic.
Citizen’s Bank Park won’t be ranked in any of the categories. Based on the modern amenities it certainly has an edge over The Ralph. Of course, it has a smaller capacity which works against it. Regardless, it shouldn’t be enough to edge ahead of either of the historic ballparks used previously.
1. 2008 – Penguins vs. Sabres: The snow globe effect was perfect for the inaugural Winter Classic. It hurt the play a bit, but was good for making ice. Regardless, the weather couldn’t have been scripted better to build the perfect event to promote the league.
2. 2009 – Detroit vs. Chicago: The new ice equipment was a major improvement over the technology used in Buffalo. There was no snow and the wind in Chicago wasn’t too much of an issue. The weather leading up to the game was great too, it made for the best surface of any Classic.
3. 2010 – Philadelphia vs. Boston: Similar to the 2009 Winter Classic, there was no snow or rain that had an impact on making the ice or the game. The weather was just right for the game, just slightly less ideal than the prior year in Chicago.
4. 2011 – Washington vs. Pittsburgh: Rain and warm weather made things very complicated. The game was pushed to the evening and continued rain made the ice surface horrible. It was the first Classic to have the weather negatively effect the entire game.
The 2012 Classic looks as if it will occur during a rather temperate winter. The ice making equipment is good up to around 45 degrees. Ideally the temperature would be under 35, just to be safe. Up until puck drop little can be said to how the weather will impact this season’s Classic.
1. 2011, Washington vs. Pittsburgh: The Penguins second try at a navy and powder blue jersey was a big win. The Capitals throwback choice were the best threads to be worn in any of the Classics. Last year’s contest was far and away the best jersey combination yet.
2. 2009, Detroit vs. Chicago: Chicago’s jerseys were probably the second best jerseys used after Washington’s from last season. Detroit had an awesome vintage set that were far different from their normal jerseys. In all, a another pair of great jerseys.
3. 2008, Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo: Pittsburgh’s baby blue’s looked great. They worked well as an alternate jersey and offered a drastic change from their usual uniforms. Buffalo’s choice was an easy one. The jerseys are less impressive since the team went back to their old logos. However, at the time, the decision was great and the original whites were phenomenal.
4. 2012, New York vs. Philadelphia: Like their uniforms from 2010, Philly again went with a pretty terrible combination. The black, orange and vintage white clash terribly. Frankly, it looks like a house league jersey. New York’s are cool, but don’t jump out at you like some in the past. They’re similar to Philly’s from 2010 just because they aren’t exciting like Washington’s or Chicago’s.
5. 2010, Philadelphia vs. Boston: Boston’s uniforms were interesting, however compiling every uniform from the team’s history was a cheap choice. Plus, the yellow didn’t work. Philadelphia’s were bland and it is terribly unfortunate that they decided to utilize them as their permanent road jerseys.
1. Detroit vs. Chicago: The original classic was nearly perfect in every way. It was exactly what the league wanted in terms of a TV game. However, the Chicago-Detroit match up was high-scoring and back-and-forth. It was easily the best game of the bunch.
2. Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo: The snow didn’t help matters much. It did make for great television, but it had a serious impact on the game. However, the shootout was high drama and having Sidney Crosby score the winner was what the league wanted. It may have reeked of a script, but the game could not have gone better for the first installment.
3. Philadelphia vs. Boston: The third Classic felt a little forced in regards to the match up. It was a somewhat boring game that was saved by the overtime decision. Bringing Montreal into Boston may have created a better game, who knows. Still, an OT game is always good for the nationally televised games.
4. Washington vs. Pittsburgh. Another game where the weather was a major factor. The Penguins couldn’t get much going and the Capitals were able to cash in on a couple defensive lapses. It is a shame that the weather had such a huge impact on last year’s game. The Crosby-Ovechkin showdown should have been perfect for the Winter Classic. Sadly, the weather changed the potential.
This year is similar to the Boston-Philadelphia game. It is more of a manufactured matchup than one which makes sense. Since both teams have strong rosters it should be a good game. It just doesn’t make for a memorable matchup a la Detroit-Chicago, Boston-Montreal or Calgary-Edmonton.
The fact of the matter is that the Western Conference is overdue to host another Classic. Minnesota is beyond deserving to host. Hopefully the league begins using some true rivalries for the Winter Classic in coming seasons. While the TV ratings are an issue, creating a game that will be full of entertainment value is equally important.