Last year, a former writer at Bloguin, Cole Jones proposed a possible future Winter Classic between the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars. One of the more intriguing yet controversial ideas as part of this proposal was to have the Dallas Stars sport Minnesota North Stars sweaters while the game would be played at either of the state’s two newest outdoor sports facilities Target Field home of the Minnesota Twins or TCF Bank Stadium home of the Golden Gophers football team. The idea was circulated to wild.com message boards where for the most part it was dismissed with many fans noting their discomfort with the idea of Dallas wearing the beloved North Stars logo. As a fan who grew up rooting for the North Stars as a kid it would be painful to see the team that broke our hearts in the State of Hockey flaunting colors we still feel our ‘own’. It is almost impossible to explain, but it would be like seeing your former best friend on a date with your girlfriend. It is just wrong on so many levels. I applaud the creativity and time Cole Jones placed into that article, even going so far as to produce an attractive Winter Classic logo for the event as well as an arena plan showing how the sheet of ice would fit onto both Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium. He obviously put a lot of thought into it and I think it was nice to see him consider the rich hockey heritage of Minnesota, but he simply miscalculated just how deep the wound still is over the North Stars’ departure. For some Wild fans, they can barely remember the North Stars or they have buried the hatchet but for fans like myself my hatred for that organization as well as former team owner Norm Green (who still resides in Dallas) still burns bright.
Here is the article if you wish to peruse it for yourself. But perhaps this is a segue for the real crux of this article as the NHL chose Stanley Cup Finals week to announce where the next Winter Classic was going to be. Curious timing of such an announcement as you are about to have your most exciting playoff series about to start by not waiting until a champion has been named to try to kill some of their buzz by announcing the league’s two darlings the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals faceoff against one another at Heinz Field. Did Chicago and the Flyers not generate enough interest by themselves that you had to again trot out the names of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin? It is highly disrespectful to the teams in the Stanley Cup Finals to try to side track those events for something that will have plenty of time to be built up by a rabid media campaign in the 6 months between now and the next Winter Classic.
Yet, is the whole concept of the Winter Classic starting to lose its novelty? I am aware of the soggy-ice affair from the early 1990’s that featured an outdoor game in Las Vegas, Nevada that did not really spark people’s imagination for a somewhat regular outdoor spectacle. For that you have to go to the NHL Heritage Classic in 2004, where the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens played an outdoor game at the home of the Edmonton Eskimos in what was an incredibly frigid day (almost 20 below zero Fahrenheit if memory serves me correct) and featured an alumni game that had Hall of Famers Paul Coffey, Mark Messier (who at the time was in his final season with the New York Rangers), Wayne Gretzky for the Oilers while the Canadiens had Brian Bellows, Guy Lafleur, and Guy Lapointe just to name a few for each. The league raised some eyebrows a few years ago while placing an outdoor hockey game against the BCS Bowl games of college football, but it certainly has exceeded expectations. Now it has become an annual event, and for the most part has featured Eastern Conference teams. Yet now with college hockey programs, even the American Hockey League getting involved into the “outdoor showcase” business is the novelty at risk of wearing off due to so many different “outdoor” events? I know you can’t blame NCAA hockey or the AHL for wishing to throw their hat into what seems to be a lucrative gimmick but if everyone is doing this could it beat this economic horse to death?
Coincidentally, the league also announced there will be an additional outdoor game in Canada as part of the second installment of the Heritage Classic this time being played in Calgary where the Flames battle against the Canadiens in what could be a great battle redux of the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals. I have zero problem with Canada having the Heritage Classic, but it has been 6 years since the last one so it keeps its novelty rather nicely. Yet the Winter Classic seems to only be about big markets and big names seem to rule the day make me doubt if the event will ever be held in Minnesota.
Why? No marquee names on the roster, and while Mikko Koivu may be a big deal to Wild fans he’s a virtual unknown to most casual sports fans which is really what the Winter Classic is marketed to. Minneapolis / St. Paul is not the big natural media market that can make the liklihood of a ratings success for NBC and the league. Sure, the first Winter Classic was held in Buffalo which is not a big media market but it did have the league’s most marketed player in Sidney Crosby playing in the game and that is precisely why they want to put him in the 2011 version. Yet if we see Sidney Crosby and perhaps Alex Ovechkin in every other Winter Classic if not head to head doesn’t that kill some of the novelty of the event? I think people had a blast watching the Blackhawks play against the Red Wings, and I think there are other Western Conference teams that could provide a spectacle just as exciting and it would be an opportunity to market some of the league’s other stars. I also believe the way the event is currently run makes it far less likely to feature Western Conference teams, but why should they be left out as they have been in 3 out of the 4 Winter Classics thus far.
I think the league needs to think about scaling back the event or perhaps using it in lieu of the All Star Game. The All Star game was originally included simply to be a spectacle and while the league loves to use it as a schmoozing tool for corporate sponsors the Winter Classic games are far more entertaining because unlike the All Star Game it actually means something. No matter what, the league would be wise to perhaps consider holding the Winter Classic in Western Conference cities or not simply throwing Pittsburgh back into it. I know it may be tough for the league to back itself away from the Crosby-money train for a few seconds but it might find out it can diversify its market base by promoting some other worthy stars that play for teams outside of the Eastern timezone. If the Winter Classic is truly an event put on as a tribute to the fans, then why not give them what they want? If they do perhaps they can help make the Winter Classic a truly novel event once again.
As with any Winter Classic; its also a time to see the awesome throwback jerseys the team’s use. The colors, striping often harken back to an earlier time but it also adds to the novelty to the occasion. Check it out for yourself, Custom Hockey Jerseys.