NHL ready for big chill when Flyers host Rangers in Winter Classic
NHL ready for big chill when Flyers host Rangers in Winter Classic
PHILADELPHIA - After his final shift is over in the NHL's version of Old Timers' Day, former Flyers great Eric Lindros wants to stick around and catch the Winter Classic.
Can't blame him. The outdoor extravaganza has blossomed into a coveted score, with the price of admission rivalling a Super Bowl seat or Final Four trip.
Now can anyone find some tickets for Lindros to watch the Jan. 2 game between his former teams, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers?
"I've got a group of buddies and we're all going to head down and enjoy the weekend," he said. "We hope to get some tickets to the Classic game. It's a hot ticket in town."
There's not a hotter pair for any marquee event in Philadelphia.
Of course, it's never too late to buy a ticket on the secondary market.
Just be prepared to spend.
Lindros can still snag one on what will be the baseline in Citizens Park Bank for US$5,000 as of Wednesday afternoon, on StubHub.com
And critics say the NHL isn't as popular as the other Big Three sports.
It is when it's time for the NHL to leave the indoor, climate-controlled arenas and take it outside for its annual New Year's season showcase, an event that has morphed from a one-day game into a week-long winter carnival, going on a yearly tour from classic ballparks to super-sized NFL stadiums.
Only the Phillies' bats in October are supposed to go cold at Citizens Bank Park.
That all changes Monday when the Rangers and Flyers add a chilly chapter to their heated rivalry in one of baseball's most popular stadiums.
"We look for teams, we look for matchups, we look for facilities that we think when we put them all together, people will get excited about it," NHL commissioner Garry Bettman said.
This will be the fifth Classic, third in a baseball stadium, and second straight with HBO's "24/7" cameras rolling.
The Flyers lost to the Boston Bruins two years ago at Fenway Park where the Green Monster served as an imposing backdrop.
"It was one of my best hockey moments," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said. "You hear the skate marks going off the ice. You hear the puck going off the glass when you miss the net. All the hockey sounds you don't get in a big-time building when the fans are right on you."
The only change this season is the date.
The Winter Classic was bumped from its traditional Jan. 1 slot to Jan. 2 so the game wouldn't conflict with a full slate of NFL games. The Eagles' stadium across the street from CBP was ruled out because of the season finale against Washington.
The Phillies were happy to host the grudge match on the site of the 2009 World Series between the Phillies and the New York Yankees.
"We probably didn't anticipate just how comprehensive the whole thing is," Phillies president David Montgomery said. "I give the NHL credit. It's quite an undertaking."
The ballpark will be bustling with sticks and pucks over the next week from legends, to current greats to college kids and families. There is a free, three-day festival outside the CBP gates, Penn State plays Neumann University on Jan. 4 and Villanova plays Drexel the following day. The Flyers' AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms, plays the Hershey Bears on Jan. 6.
There's also a high school game, and open public skating—for $60 an hour.
That means about 175,000 fans are expected for the open-air events.
"It's a confirmation that Philadelphia is not just a Flyers town, but a bona fide hockey market," team president Peter Luukko said.
The stadium is configured to a bit more than 44,000 seats: 20,000 tickets went to the Flyers, 10,000 for the Rangers, 4,000 for the Phillies and the rest to the NHL and corporate sponsors. The Flyers also allocated 1,300 tickets to youth hockey groups at discounted prices.
No wonder cities have turned up the heat on the league office to host the next Classic.
"Going back to the first game, we didn't know how quickly we could sell 73,000 seats in Buffalo, and it turned out we were sold out in 20 minutes," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said.
The NHL stumbled onto a huge hit with the alumni game, a lace-up-the-skates exhibition that started last year in Pittsburgh and has generated huge hype this year in Philadelphia because of Lindros'long-awaited return after a decade of estrangement from the franchise he led to the 1997 Stanley Cup finals.
What the NHL thought would be a fleeting feel-good game when it made its debut last year in Pittsburgh, has turned into a feature attraction.
"We weren't planning on selling a whole lot of tickets, we allocated something like 5,000 tickets," Collins said. "Then Mario Lemieux decided to play.
"Suddenly, the sense was, we could have sold out Heinz Field again for the alumni game and we weren't prepared. We were in the middle of a lot of operational detail, so I think we sold only about 10,500 tickets. We won't do that again. That's a great opportunity."
Luukko said the alumni game is sold out. Former Flyers stars such as Lindros, Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent play ex-Rangers greats such as Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves on Saturday.
Not everyone was happy. Season-ticket holders did not have the Winter Classic in their package and were forced to buy tickets to the alumni and AHL games if they wanted to attend.
"We did have some limited complaints," Luukko said.
Also, the official announcement from the league came in late September, well after the schedule was released, and after the news had leaked out in various forums since the spring. Montgomery said the first call from the Flyers came last January.
The NHL needed to work out a new TV deal with NBC and the Phillies had some ticket issues that needed to be addressed before the date was set.
"I'm sure the NHL would like to add more suites but, because of our contracts with our suite customers, we couldn't do that," Montgomery said.
Montgomery and NHL officials did not disclose how much it cost to rent the ballpark. Included in that price tag is a new baseball field, which was last replaced after the 2009 World Series.
"That's probably the No. 1 issue," Montgomery said.
Forget bats and balls.
This weekend is about Claude Giroux and Marian Gaborik. Danny Briere and Brad Richards. Ilya Bryzgalov and Henrik Lundqvist.
The Winter Classic, through its brief history, has always been about stars or ratings-friendly, large-market teams such as the Flyers and Rangers. As the tradition grows, the league could branch out to give small-market teams a shot.
Bettman said earlier this year in an interview with the Star Tribune, "We'd be crazy not to do a Winter Classic in Minnesota." So the league definitely sees the market as ripe for the game.
At some point, the NHL will roll the dice between two teams that aren't steeped in history.
"Nobody ever cancelled their Super Bowl party because they didn't like the two teams playing in the game," Collins said.
Locales for Super Bowls, WrestleManias, Final Fours and all-star games are selected well advance of the date. When the NHL released its season schedule, there was no mention of the Winter Classic. Collins conceded the league would like to announce future games about 14 or 15 months ahead to build into advertisers' marketing plans.
So where to next? The NHL would love to hit Yankee Stadium, but bowl game commitments make that impossible for the immediate future. NFL stadiums are tricky because of the playoffs and the time the league needs as it takes over a stadium. While college students are often on break around the Classic, college stadiums could be sites—consider, Michigan State tied Michigan 3-3 in overtime at Spartan Stadium before 74,554 people in 2001.
Collins laughed as he recalled a phone conversation from NBC Sports president of programming John Miller "probably 10 minutes into my first day," with the classic pitch: "We'd like to do something big," on New Year's Day.
Snow, a sold-out football stadium and Crosby scoring the shootout winner highlighted the inaugural event in 2008 between the Penguins and Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium. In 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks played the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field. In 2010, the Boston Bruins hosted the Flyers at Fenway Park. Last season, the Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field.
Now, there are news conferences for the game's official jersey unveiling, cameras are positioned for the arrival of ice trucks, and NHL.com airs a live "Winter Classic Rink Build."
All this hoopla for a game not played for a Cup or trophy, but two points.
Lindros shouldn't miss out. He did have tickets before raffling them away for charity.
He can hit up a familiar face for a new pair.
"We'll probably have to take a few away from the commissioner," Collins said, laughing.