NHL scored another winner with the winter classic match between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, two “original six” hockey teams. The league could not have picked a better venue to host such a match between the teams. The buzz in the city of Chicago was truly electric as Blackhawk and Red Wing fans and even hockey purists from across U.S. and Canada poured into Wrigley field to witness the New Year’s special event. Wrigley field successfully packed in 40,000 plus spectators and even the rooftops across the street were filled to watch the highly touted matchup between the division rivals on a chilly 32 degree day. The pregame festivities were also entertaining to watch as former Blackhawk, Red Wing, and even Cub greats were honored and saluted by the crowd. The introduction took on a Super bowl feel as both teams simultaneously walked out of the tunnel onto a foggy aisle of ice lined by young children decked out in Chicago and Detroit sweaters.
Despite the fanfare of a nationally televised game at historic Wrigley on New Year’s Day, the game had taken on a life of its own since the two clubs have faced each other more than any other two teams in the league. It also didn’t hurt that the teams are both vying for first place in their conference. I viewed this game with my son and daughter besides me in their Blackhawk gear loving every minute of the first period, until seeing the home team fold in the remaining two periods. Detroit is a dream team with regards to talent. They usually sign and retain the best talent whether the players are young such as Zetterberg or older like former Hawk, Chris Chelios. On January 1, the Red Wings provided Chicago the appropriate benchmark of what it will take to become the top dog in the NHL.
Leading up to the Winter Classic, the Blackhawks organization has done a remarkable job with bringing in quality talent and signing of all star players such as defenseman, Jeff Campbell and goalie Cristobal Huet. The current ownership and management has also done wonders by re-uniting itself with past all star alumni such as Bobby Hull, Stan Makita, Dennis Savard and Tony Esposito whom have once again served as valuable ambassadors for the franchise. These offseason moves in addition to new marketing/promotion personnel have resuscitated professional hockey in Chicago as proven by numerous sellouts and greater television viewership.
Though out the United States, hockey viewership has usually taken the back seat to other prime time sports such as football, baseball, and the basketball. The outdoor New Year’s game in Buffalo in ’08 and Chicago in ’09 created off the chart TV ratings across the country and perhaps bolstered greater interest in the sport. Commissioner Bettman, the NHL, and NBC have done a great job in promoting this sport on New Year’s Day that really has become a “classic”. The last two years, the timing of this event could not have been more appropriately planned as competition in the middle of the day is usually between lower ranked bowl teams since the BCS matches usually occur in the prime time and now way past January 1st.
The winter classic is here to stay. It is just a matter of which city wants it the most.