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Analysis: Despite problems, Winter Classic a success

More than 70,000 fans took in the Winter Classic.

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More than 70,000 fans took in the Winter Classic.

During the second intermission of the NHL’s “Winter Classic” outdoor game in Buffalo Tuesday afternoon, NBC host Bob Costas wondered whether the Pittsburgh Penguins’ complete and utter absence of scoring chances in the second period would be pointed to by hockey purists as another reason the league shouldn’t play a regular-season game in a football stadium.

Obviously, Costas hasn’t paid enough attention to the league of late to understand the absence of scoring chances in any particular NHL contest has zilch to do with its location, and instead denotes the chronic over-coaching of players and other structural ailments of the game.

Let’s fry that fish another day. Today, let’s pronounce the Winter Classic a success.

Sure, there were several road bumps along the way. Technical TV glitches, referees whose whistles apparently couldn’t be un-frozen in time for the game, and more ice repair work than Nicole Kidman’s latest plastic surgery were a few signs signaling room for improvement in the NHL’s overall entertainment package.

However, from the moment those first images from above Rich Stadium came in, it was clear the day would be remembered by more people than those who braved the snow-bound elements to attend. Players and coaches were frequently smiling and taking in the scene; fans filled the joint, setting a league single-game attendance record; and in the end, the designated hero (Sidney Crosby) followed the script to the letter and won the game for his team.

Though it was a mid-season match-up between two teams whose performances this season could be only occasionally described as actual performances, it had the tone, tension and texture of a playoff game. Best of all – and directly as a result of the setting – it was the sport at its most ideal, rosy-cheeked and sniffly, with a cold spark in the lungs that helped players and fans hold their focus.

It was hockey as grand spectacle, and I haven’t had nearly enough of it. To hell with the cynics and warm-weatheristas among us; the league should make this a yearly deal, and give every one of its teams a shot at the really big time.

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