By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) It’s Super Bowl week in the New York area, so the NHL wanted to take advantage of it with two outdoor games at Yankee Stadium.
The outdoor games are a great story for the NHL, beginning with the first Winter Classic played in the Buffalo snow globe in 2008 and continuing each year until last year’s lockout.
This season, the outdoor games are back with a vengeance, as the so-called Stadium Series has augmented the New Year’s Day Winter Classic played at cavernous Michigan Stadium.
These games are always a huge financial success, as 50,000 fans or more fill these baseball and football stadiums and the league rakes in the cash.
However, everything else about these games are phony. They are promoted to death in romantic fashion, and just about everybody buys in. However, it’s an abomination.
The narrative is always the same: “The game goes back to its roots. Everybody started off by playing the game on some frozen pond, and now the NHL gives its players a chance to play the game outdoors once again.”
That’s just so much hooey. Yes, many of the players skated outdoors or even played outside from time to time. However, no young player ever got scouted for a chance to play junior, college or professional hockey by skating outside. The game is hard and demanding, and only the best survive. They don’t survive by skating leisurely on a frozen river or lake in Canada. Not if they want to play in the NHL.
And then there’s the “fun” aspect of the game. It’s so much fun to play outdoors.
Even those of us who love winter, the cold and snow have our limits. It’s one thing to go outside in normal cold weather – not the polar vortex conditions that have attacked Chicago twice this winter – for 20 or 30 minutes at a time and then come inside.
But when it’s brutally cold, the snow is coming down and the wind is blowing, it’s not a lot of fun for the players or the fans in attendance, no matter what the NHL says. Check out what Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils said about the ice at Yankee Stadium.
“It was the worst ice I’ve ever played on,” Brodeur said. “When you went on, it was worse and worse. It was tough. It was so cold out there.”
You might want to mark Brodeur’s remarks down to sour grapes because he gave up six goals to the Rangers in his team’s loss. However, Brodeur is arguably the greatest goalie in the history of the game, and he has been a stand-up guy throughout his career.
He was just being honest, which is unique when it comes to these outdoor games.
The ice at Yankee Stadium does not figure to get any better by Wednesday when the Rangers and the New York Islanders go at it. The game at Michigan Stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs was played in a snowstorm and was basically a crawl.
If any of these outdoor games have been worth talking about, it was the game at Dodger Stadium between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. It was beautiful weather, and nobody suffered in Hollywood. Give full marks to the NHL for the scientific advancements of giving players a sheet of ice to play on even though temperatures reached 80 degrees during the day.
The NHL brings its series of outdoor games to Soldier Field on March 1 when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins.
By that time, this winter of brutally cold temperatures should largely be finished. No guarantees, but temperatures are likely to be much more bearable than they have been this month.
However, conditions at Soldier Field will not be like those at the United Center. The NHL does not have the ability to provide major-league quality ice in any of these outdoor venues.
But you will hear all the superstars and executives mouthing words about how wonderful and romantic it is to bring the game back to its roots.
They are not being truthful, and that’s because the NHL wants to protect and feed its cash cow. They will play as many of these games as they can until the public tires of it.
That’s not likely to happen for several years. Fans like to fill up Yankee Stadium, Michigan Stadium and, presumably, Soldier Field. They are mega-events, and people can say they were there.
Still, it’s not high-quality hockey, and the games are substandard.
But the NHL can count its cash, and that’s what matters most.