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The Best and Worst of the 2014 Winter Classic

Posted on January 03, 2014 by Scott Huntington

2014WinterClassicAerial

Last year’s lockout, the cancelling of the 2013 Winter Classic and the seemingly endless amount of “special” outdoor games that will flood this upcoming year may have made the average NHL fan fairly complacent when it came to the 2014 Winter Classic held outdoors at the University of Michigan’s “Big House.” We had been promised spectacle before, but was there really anything new or more exciting the NHL could offer other than “It’s BIGGER!”? Turns out, the answer is a resounding YES, as this year’s Classic was not only the biggest, but one of the best. Let’s take a look at what went well without the usual metal roofs of NHL stadiums, and what didn’t:

GREAT

The Weather: You couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque winter day in Michigan. For those who grew up playing on the frozen ponds and lakes, this struck a chord that made one long for the days of skating till the sun goes down. The producers always show the little kids skating montage in an attempt to warm our hearts, but this time it really worked. The snow buildup on the ice was cool, and watching professionals re-learn how to play on a different surface was really cool. What an atmosphere!

The Jerseys: Man those sweaters looked great. There’s something about a lot of stripes that just screams “Old Time Hockey,” and these sweaters were killer. Many non-Wings fans were overheard commenting that they would wear (or even buy) one of the 2014 Classic jerseys. The Leafs wore a throwback from the early 1930’s and Detroit sported a new creation that will be an instant classic. Top that off with the goalies wearing vintage brown “leather” pads and this was everything a classic hockey fan could dream of.

Individuality: Paul Ranger of The Maple Leafs went “Braveheart” style with his face paint, which was easily the most creative thing anyone has done with eyeblack in a while. It was surprisingly interesting to see how the players dealt with the cold. Toronto’s Phil Kessel was bundled to the max, wearing a balaclava that he would pull up over his nose, while several Red Wings seemed to embrace the cold, skating sans toques or helmets during warm-ups. The goalie pads were great, and the goalie masks were stellar too, but the best was Jonathan Bernier wearing the pom-topped toque on his mask the whole game. Few may have noticed, but many players had their modern composite sticks painted like classic wooden ones too!

Bravehart

The Alumni Game: So many legends they had to have two different lineups! For the nostalgic hockey fan, this was the main event. Seeing the Russian Five back on the ice (even with Vladimir Konstantinov walking out to center ice for a photo op!) and Leafs goaltender Doug Favell sporting the classic goalie mask. The greatest part, however, was 74 year old Red “Barron” Berenson getting into it and bringing out the old coaching skills.

The Venue: Much ado had been made about how many people could be crammed into “The Big House,” but it was very impressive to actually see 105,000 fans at the game. Even more impressive was the number of Leafs fans who were in attendance. Even though this game was in Michigan, it had the feel of a neutral site stadium, and the blue and red jerseys were evenly dispersed through the stands. This game certainly had the college football feel to it, with the energy in the air from the snow, the crazy fans and the massive building.

GOOD

The Game Itself: While certainly not the most thrilling game, with goals and highlights a-plenty, it was a fun game to watch. The first period was fairly slow, and that can be attributed to the weather, but once the boys figured out how to play in those conditions, it was quite a game. Jonathan Bernier earned his #1 star by being stellar in net, and both teams had some great chances. Howard’s stop on Nazem Kadri was insane, and the whole place erupted. While a shootout is a lousy way to determine a winner, it’s a great way to end a televised game. Not an overly amazing game, but the aesthetics made it worth it.

The Broadcast: Wind and snow, plus unique camera angles were well adapted to by the broadcast staff and the camera angles were usually pretty good. Sometimes the overhead camera was a bit disorienting, but all in all, it was a very watchable televised hockey game. Doc Emrick is one of the best American play-by-play announcers, and is paired well with Eddie Olczyk, who has made incredible leaps in being more likeable. The ever annoying Pierre McGuire was relegated to his usual spot between the boards, but only seldom was called on for his quips chock full of useless information. NBC has few tolerable commentators, and they did a good job of being quiet enough not to ruin it.

The Anthems: Both nations were well represented by tasteful and well performed male quartets that were strong and powerful and didn’t try to put an artistic spin on either song. No one wants to hear your vocal range when ad-libbing the tune of “Oh Canada,” and The Tenors were respectful and awesome. Great start to the game.

BAD

The Music: If you’re an event planner in the city of Detroit, and you’re hosting the largest attended hockey game on the planet and you need a musical guest, couldn’t you find someone better than Mayer Hawthorne?  I mean, it’s not like Detroit is known for an entire genre of music, or any notable performers from the area. Boston was smart enough to bring in the Dropkick Murphys, and the Chicago got some Blackhawks legends to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” at Wrigley Field, but Detroit dropped the ball on this one. Thankfully they cut away after a few seconds to spare us.

The Change in OT: While it is understandable that the teams switch ends during the 3rd period to account for any difference in wind or sun glare, changing at the 2:30 mark of overtime is a little ridiculous. It hadn’t caused any issue until this time around, when Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg grabbed the puck on a fast break and had it stopped by the horn. The NHL should take that in to consideration for next time.

Expectations: This is good and bad at the same time. The Winter Classic was so good that the Stadium Series games will pale in comparison. You won’t get a winter wonderland at Dodger Stadium, and there won’t be 105,000 voracious fans to watch the Rangers and Devils. No, this game is about as good as it gets when it comes to outdoor spectacles, and the other games won’t stack up.

 BOTTOM LINE

The NHL has a good thing going with the Winter Classic, and 2014 restored the faith of many who were thinking the premise was being overblown and under developed. It’ll be hard to top the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at the Big House, but we can hope the NHL has some more tricks up its sleeve for the future.

Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, and long-time hockey fan. He lives in Pennsylvania and does research for UB Solutions. You can also find him on Twitter @smhuntington and at blogspike.com


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