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Outdoor NHL Games Special for Fans, Players

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USA TODAY

 

Outdoor hockey has been a staple of the NHL's regular-season schedule since the first Winter Classic was held between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Jan. 1, 2008.

The St. Louis Blues' 4-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium on Monday was the ninth Winter Classic. It won't be the last, especially with the NHL celebrating its centennial.

"We're focused on a game on the same day that (the NHL) played our first game," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Obviously, we're focused on a Winter Classic. So my guess is we're probably talking about three (outdoor) games next year, give or take."

Why the outdoor concept still works:

Super Bowl feel: Media and social media commentary often suggests outdoor games have lost their charm because the concept is no longer novel, but anyone who has attended an outdoor game probably views it differently. Attendees appreciate how the games take over a city. Outdoor games are made-to-be-there events.

Monday's Winter Classic at Busch Stadium was the first NHL outdoor game in St. Louis, Sunday's Centennial Classic at BMO Field the first in Toronto.

The week-long buildup to the game offers the sport as much attention as the game itself.

Weather always the subplot: Outdoor games are the only sporting events where many fans root for inclement weather. The snowier, the better. The 2014 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., was played with snow falling, winds howling at 10 mph and a wind chill of zero. Yet that game might rank among the best in terms of entertainment value.

You never know what you will get attending outdoor hockey. The NHL played an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium with 60-degree temperatures in 2014.

NHL officials were so concerned about rain Monday in St.Louis that they issued a news release, detailing scenarios that could play out if rain delayed or cut short the game. As it turned out, 47-degree temperatures allowed for high-quality ice conditions.

Games are bigger than the sport: Sunday, Canadian recording artist Bryan Adams supplied the between-period entertainment at the Centennial Classic. When the Blues and Blackhawks played Monday, NBC's Jeremy Roenick interviewed St. Louis native Jon Hamm (Don Draper from Mad Men), who was sitting in the stands with his high school buddies. Outdoor allows the NHL to expand its boundaries.

Results matter: These games are spectacles but not exhibitions.

If the Toronto Maple Leafs make the playoffs, fans might see Auston Matthews' overtime game-winner in a 5-4 win against the Detroit Red Wings as the turning point of the season. The Blues are trying to chase down the Blackhawks in the Central Division, and the two points earned are ultra-important.

NHL officials have picked opponents for outdoor games based on entertainment value. The Blues-Blackhawks rivalry is one of the best in hockey.

Romance of the game: Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has been involved in three outdoor games and still described his Sunday experience as "awesome."

"I hear all the time, 'There's too many outdoor games.' Well, ask the players; they want to be in them," Babcock said. "They love them. They are one of the greatest gifts you can give your family. I loved the family skate. I loved the practice outside. The whole event for our team was spectacular."

The Blues' Ken Hitchcock was coaching his first outdoor game.

"It's almost overwhelming to look around," he said.

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January 3, 2017
 
 
 

 

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