Friday, January 2, 2009

The NHL Outdoor Classic - Wrigley Field, Chicago

I'm not really such of a hockey fan...well, the fighting and checking are awesome...but go Blackhawks!

By Scott Burnside

CHICAGO -- Going, going, gone. Home run. Touch 'em all, NHL.

Forgive the obvious baseball allusion, but from the cool retro uniforms worn by the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, to the 40,818 fans bundled up and jammed into venerable Wrigley Field belting out the national anthem en masse, to the old-style black fedoras sported by the Detroit coaching staff, to the wildly entertaining game itself, the 2009 Winter Classic was another red-letter day for the league.

For the second straight year, the NHL has taken its game outdoors, and this success at Wrigley virtually guarantees the Winter Classic will become an annual event and the National Hockey League will carve its own place on the sporting calendar with its Jan. 1 hockey lovefest.

For a league that continues to wage an uphill battle to establish itself as a pan-American sport, it has hit on a signature event that should continue to draw the casual fan for years to come, regardless of where the game goes.

The Stanley Cup playoffs will always be the league's most dramatic event, but by its very nature, interest narrows as teams are eliminated. In a surprisingly short period of time, the Winter Classic has become something that fans, regardless of allegiance, will be drawn to, whether it's the atmosphere, the drama or the total buy-in from players.

"This is what we hoped it would be," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said not long after the Red Wings beat the Blackhawks by a 6-4 count. "It's unique in the way that it takes the game back to its roots. It's unique in the way the players react to it because it's so special to be there on the ice.

"It's something that we know can be a special part of our game if we do it right."

Credit the league for taking a quantum leap forward after the critical success of last year's first Winter Classic in Buffalo.

Read more after the jump via ESPN

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