There’s few things sports fans crave more than being able to relate to the athletes they idolize. In a time where players make more money in a month than most make in a lifetime, the search for such common ground has grown more arduous by the year.
That’s where the Winter Classic comes into play.
Since its inaugural showing on the first day of the year 2008, a Buffalo Sabres home tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., the classic has been the NHL’s journey to the outdoors for one day. An escape from the concrete-padded arena into the wilderness of the outdoors. From 40,000-seat baseball stadiums to 100,000-seat college football venues to 70,000-seat NFL facilities, the game has been a journey to where the game began.
OK, so maybe we’re not going into the middle of the woods with negative temperatures, whipping winds, and conditions that make most yearn for the summer months. The 2016 Winter Classic will be played between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens on Friday afternoon amidst Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The high temperature is supposed to be 40 degrees. So it’s not necessarily the holy cornfield of pucks that is a frozen pond in frigid weather in the deep, dark cold of winter. But you get the point.
The sight takes you back to the lake behind your house where you’d lace up the skates when you couldn’t feel your toes. You’d meet up with some buddies and play some pick-up. It wasn’t really the Bruins and Canadiens, but you pretended it was. You fought over who was Bobby Orr. Meanwhile, Guy Lafleur was up for the taking.
For Billy from Brockton watching the game from Row 215, he’ll harbor similar memories as Patrice Bergeron, skating in his second Winter Classic as one of the premier hockey players in the world. There’s nothing like it.
We’ve seen it all in just a short time. Games being delayed due to warm temperatures causing the ice to melt. Who hasn’t had that letdown of unseasonable warmth when they just want to skate around for a bit? Snow has fallen as players battle for the puck, fight for the two points at stake.
It’s the biggest stage. NBC. Doc Emrick. Pierre McGuire. The chances of Thursday’s games being the most watched regular season NHL game ever outweigh the chances of it not. Yet here you are, back in the virtual world of being a kid. The beauty of the game. The serenity of the scene. It’s not what you get for admission within the concrete walls of the TD Garden or Bell Centre, or the hockey cathedrals that preceded them, the Boston Garden or Montreal Forum.
The event’s uniqueness is one of a kind. Find such an example of the NBA, NHL, MLB taking a game and making a masterpiece of it. Good luck. And don’t say the MLB All-Star Game because it decides which pennant winner hosts the first game of the World Series. That’s a travesty, not a masterpiece.
The Winter Classic does count. Two points will be a stake. The break-glass-in-case-of-emergency third point will be on site in case a decision isn’t reached after 60 minutes of hockey, as has happened three times in the first seven classics. The winner takes over first place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division.
The game will captivate the imaginations of all within the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium from players to fans to staff, as well the millions watching the game on television in restaurants, bars, and living rooms across North America. The memories of going out on the ponds will be triggered. You’ll lose feeling in your hands a little bit – don’t be alarmed, it’s just nostalgia – as the thoughts flow through your mind.
In a time where NHL players earn an average of $2.6 million with players earning as much as $14 million, such a common ground seems impossible to come by. By going back to where the game originated, where the love of the game for many was found, that common ground is achieved annually upon the commencement of a new year.