The last outdoor game was played at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia last year. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
This could be a very short column.
Don’t like the new sked of outdoor games the NHL has planned for next season? Shut up, it’s fun.
OK, I’ll expand on the theme.
There will certainly be bleaters out there who believe the NHL is watering down (no pun intended) the concept of outdoor games by planning six next season, including two at Yankee Stadium involving the Rangers, but what could possibly be wrong with expanding the most successful marketing move the NHL has ever made?
The most obvious qualm is that the league could kill the golden goose by saturating the sport with these specials, but ask the cities that have hosted in the past and they’ll tell you a return to the great outdoors in their market would be welcomed with open arms.
The fact so many teams want to host is confirmed by the expansion of the production itself and that’s without obvious markets such as Minnesota on the docket (though I’m sure the State of Hockey is on the shortlist for 2014-15).
For the players, these games will serve as welcome distractions from the doldrums of an 82-game schedule. It’s difficult to think of during this shortened campaign when every game truly matters, but there definitely are some lulls in the regular season and I don’t think it’s any surprise that three of the new games are slated for the end of January. And if it mortifies your pious soul that professional hockey players who make millions and have dreamed all their lives of winning a Stanley Cup may not be able to get up for every single regular season game, well, be prepared to be sad: They don’t. That’s when the veterans depend on the kids to get the team through a Tuesday nighter in February against the second-worst team in the conference.
But with something fresh in sight, there is something to look forward to, something closer than the playoffs, something better than the all-star break. Speaking of which, how about an outdoor All-Star Game? For years the event has been derided as a corporate smoozefest/snoozefest, but toss that puppy outside and you’ll really see some fun. Maybe you can let the players wear toques instead of helmets (there’s never any hitting, but falls and deflections are unavoidable), but that child-like feeling the pros seem to get when they’re playing under open skies would only increase if they got to play with peers and friends from other teams.
In terms of the “regular” outdoor games, however, I still don’t see much of a downside. Sure, there have been ice conditions in the past that were less than ideal, but how great is the surface at Madison Square Garden when the Knicks have played a basketball game 12 hours before the Rangers take to the ice? Or when there’s 230 percent humidity in Nashville or Carolina for a playoff game in late April? These are the realities of an imperfect world and you can do everything in your power to minimize them, or you can accept the occasional blip and reap the rewards that come with a unique sporting experience.
Have any of the previous outdoor games been failures? Is there any reason to believe fans won’t flock to Soldier Field or BC Place? Dodger Stadium of course will be the most intriguing. Clearly the NHL and ice master Dan Craig have run the logistics on playing outdoors in a warm climate such as Los Angeles, so the only question remaining is how many media passes will have to be issued for an outdoor hockey game in Los Angeles in January? Some of the Canadian writers may actually weep with joy when they’re wearing their cabana shirts to Chavez Ravine (and oh yes, there will be reporters in cabana shirts).
Will the contest between the Ducks and Kings be unorthodox? Sure. But it’s also going to be fun, so shut up and enjoy it.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.