INSIDE HOCKEY » Winter Classic Get Inside! Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:37:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2013 Hockeytown Festival: Alumni Game 2 Sun, 05 Jan 2014 13:37:24 +0000

DETROIT, MI – DECEMBER 31: The Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni Teams met up during the Hockeytown Winter Festival for an old fashioned outdoor game at Comerica Park on December 31, 2013. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Inside Hockey)

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2013 Hockeytown Festival: Alumni Game 1 Sun, 05 Jan 2014 13:35:02 +0000

DETROIT, MI – DECEMBER 31: The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni Teams met up during the Hockeytown Winter Festival for an old fashioned outdoor game, at Comerica Park on December 31, 2013. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Inside Hockey)


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Photo Gallery: 2014 Bridgestone Winter Classic Thu, 02 Jan 2014 23:46:28 +0000

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business with a 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings to capture the 2014 Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 1. (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Inside Hockey)

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2013 Winter Classic: A Cold Day in Ann Arbor Wed, 02 Jan 2013 17:40:17 +0000

By Ryan Stieg,

2013 Winter Classic

As I type this column, I feel a great sadness. Snow is lightly falling outside my apartment window in the background and instead of watching the Winter Classic on NBC, I’m watching a bunch of unimportant bowl games on ESPN. Normally I enjoy college football, but until the BCS National Championship occurs next Monday, none of the games matter to me.

This weekend was supposed to be something great for all hockey fans – especially those in Detroit. The city was planning on pulling out all the stops with an American Hockey League game (Toronto Marlies vs. Grand Rapids Griffins), an Ontario Hockey League doubleheader (Saginaw vs. Windsor, London vs. Plymouth) as well as college hockey’s Great Lakes Invitational tournament (Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Western Michigan) outdoors at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.

With the lockout lasting longer than it should have, the AHL and OHL games moved indoors. The GLI moved back to its normal location, Joe Louis Arena. This killed me and my hockey-loving friends because it would have been great to see how Comerica handled hockey and if fans in Detroit would pack the house like their counterparts in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.

The Marlies and the Griffins played back-to-back games in Grand Rapids with each squad getting a win, while the GLI featured a truly great moment – the long-struggling Michigan Tech Huskies won their first tourney title since 1980, with goaltender Phoenix Copley earning back-to-back shutouts over Michigan and Western Michigan.

While the other games were still able to be played albeit indoors, Detroit’s main event today between the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs at the Big House was not played at all, disappointing sports fans everywhere. Even ESPN’s Facebook status said “Today just doesn’t feel right without hockey.” For the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader of Sports” to miss the Winter Classic really says how stupid this lockout is.

If there’s one thing I’m known for as a writer, it’s asking what-if questions about sporting events. I’ve offered predictions about who would have won each Super Bowl between the AFC and NFC’s runner-ups. Same thing in hockey: Who would have won last year’s Stanley Cup Finals if it had been played between the Rangers and the Coyotes (Rangers in five games if you’re wondering).

So with the Winter Classic not being played at all this year, I thought this would give me the perfect chance to predict how the game would have finished. Without further ado …

With mostly cloudy skies hanging over the largest college football stadium in the country, 115,000 hockey fans filed through the turnstiles into Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The previous hockey attendance record occurred just three years earlier at the Big Chill, but today’s fans shattered it. By the time the Red Wings and Maple Leafs made their way to the rink located at the 50-yard line, snow flurries started to fall from the clouds and a slight wind picked up, sending shivers down the spines of the red- and blue-clad fans.

With the Red Wings wearing the red striped jerseys of the 1926-27 Detroit Cougars and the Maple Leafs wearing the white jerseys with the blue leaf in front from the 1927-28 season, the puck dropped in the first period. The first paces were slow, with both teams acclimating to the elements and gain their footing on the ice. The Leafs got on the board midway through the period when James Van Riemsdyk slid a rebound past Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. The Wings would tie the score with less than 30 seconds left in the frame when Johan Franzen beats James Reimer with a snap shot just under the blocker.

As the second period got underway the wind picked up, forcing both coaches to make more line changes to keep players warm. Just four minutes in, things started to heat up. Small scrums erupted all over the ice – the largest being an all-out brawl between the Wings’ Todd Bertuzzi and Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. The bout itself was a draw, although Phaneuf got in one last jab to Bertuzzi’s jaw before the refs escorted them to the penalty boxes. One minute later, an errant Red Wings pass went wide of its intended target. Toronto winger Matt Frattin scooped it up, started a breakaway, then tried to get Howard to bite on a fake but held his position. Frattin used his puck-handling skills1 to deke Howard slightly out of position and the forward tucked the puck just between the goalie’s skate and the left post.

Toronto would increase its lead to 3-1 with about seven minutes left in the period when Phaneuf fires a blistering slap shot through a screen past Howard’s glove. Even though the Leafs had a two-goal lead, Phil Kessel took a dumb penalty in slashing Pavel Datsyuk with three minutes left in the frame. Reimer is able to withstand a series of shots on the power play but eventually gives up a juicy rebound right to Henrik Zetterberg, who buries it. Toronto leads 3-2 heading into the third period.

It doesn’t take the Wings long to send the crowd into a frenzy. Thirty seconds into the frame, Franzen scores his second goal of the game off a one-timer from Zetterberg. Detroit has a great chance to take its first lead, but Reimer stops Bertuzzi cold near the net.

Both teams continue to play aggressively for the rest of the period, but both goalies stand on their heads. Howard makes the save of the game with six minutes left, flashing the glove to rob Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek of a wide-open net.

The game then heads to overtime, where it’s clear that both squads are exhausted. The effort going after the puck is slow. There are fewer hits. With a little more than a minute left in the extra frame, Phaneuf takes it upon himself to make a play and hammers Jordin Tootoo along the boards behind Howard. The Detroit winger coughs up the biscuit, which trickles over to Kessel, who makes up for his earlier penalty and snipes a shot past a sprawling Howard, giving the Leafs a 4-3 victory.

Back in November, the NHL said that the 2014 Winter Classic would be played in Ann Arbor so I have another year to wait to see if my prediction holds true. Until then, I’ll just pretend that I was right.

1. The same puck-handling skills that should have won him the Hobey Baker while he played for North Dakota.

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NHL 13 Simulation: 2013 Winter Classic Wed, 02 Jan 2013 15:51:46 +0000

New Years Day has become a day where football fans salivate at the schedule of games they get to watch.  Seventh ranked Georgia is playing #16 Nebraska at 1 pm in the Capital One Bowl, while at the same time #18 Michigan is playing #10 South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Then at 5 p.m the Badgers of Wisconsin take on the #8 Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl. It doesn’t get better than the Rose Bowl, that’s for sure. To finish off the night #12 Florida State plays the Cinderella story of the BCS Northern Illinois Huskies.

What a day of football watching.

But if it were not for the NHL lockout, hockey fans would be getting ready to watch the Detroit Red Wings take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2013 Winter Classic at the Big House in Michigan.

The Winter Classic has only been around since 2008, but it has already made itself a staple in the New Years Days sports lineup.

Every game has been a “classic”, including last years game in Philadelphia between the Flyers and the New York Rangers. The Rangers erased a 2-0 deficit in the second period, and led the game 3-2 late in the third. With 19 seconds left the Flyers were awarded a penalty shot that was taken by Danny Briere. Lundqvist stopped Briere’s shot and the Rangers won 3-2.

With no Winter Classic being played in Michigan this year, hockey fans are deprived of one of the greatest hockey events of the season.

I took the liberty of firing up the X-Box 360 and tossing in my copy of NHL 13. I set up the Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. To be clear, I did not participate in the game, I simply sat back and watched.

The Detroit Red Wings were the favorites to win the game. They had the better team, and they were playing in Michigan.

The Red Wings and Leafs got off to a slow start in this years classic. It was a neutral zone battle and not much offensive play until the second half of the period.

With less than seven minutes to play in the first, Henrik Zetterberg buried a long rebound left by Leafs goalie James Reimer (11 saves) to give the Wings a 1-0 lead.

The Wings got off to a fast start in the second period when Johan Franzen rifled a shot over the right shoulder of Reimer less than a minute into the second period.

The Red Wings had all the momentum on their side and looked like they were going to run away with the game.

Not so fast.

One minute after Franzen scored, Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk took the puck from behind the Detroit net, and shoved it past Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (14 saves), and the puck trickled over the line to cut the deficit to 2-1.

The Maple Leafs began to control the game, and began playing more in the Red Wings end then their own.

With less than nine minutes to play in the second, van Riemsdyk scored his second of the game when he took the puck off of the half boards, drove to the net, and buried over the shoulder of Howard.

One minute later, Dan Cleary was called for slashing, and Toronto went on the power play.

On the power play, Phil Kessel found himself open in the slot and ripped one on net only to be robbed by the glove of Jimmy Howard, and the game remained tied at 2.

With 30 seconds left on the power play, van Riemsdyk delivered his third goal of the period when he beat Howard high on the stick side, again.

Toronto took a 3-2 lead into the third period, and held Detroit to just three shots on goal in the second period.

Phil Kessel put the Leafs in front by two goals when he blasted a shot from a sharp angle that beat Howard on the short side.

The Red Wings responded quickly, scoring one minute later. Kyle Quincy took a pass from Zetterberg at the point, and beat Reimer low on the stick side, and the Red Wings cut the Leafs lead to 4-3.

The Red Wings could not get any more offense going the rest of the period. With less than two minutes to go in the game, the Maple Leafs controlled the puck and did not allow Detroit to gain the offensive zone cleanly.

Detroit pulled their goalie with less than a minute, but the Maple Leafs D was too much. Clarke MacArthur added an empty net goal with seven seconds left and the Leafs went on to a 5-3 victory.

The Winter Classic has belonged to the road team. Since 2008 the road team has won five of the six Winter Classics, with the Boston Bruins being the only home team to win in 2010. The Bruins beat the Flyers 2-1 in overtime.

2013 Winter Classic Three Stars

1. James van Riemsdyk-  3 G

2. Henrik Zetterberg- 1 G, 1 A

3. Phil Kessel- 1 G (Game Winner)

Box Score     1     2     3     F

Toronto           0     3     2    5

Detroit             2      0    1    3

Scoring Summary

1st Period

13:34- (Det) Zetterberg (Samuelsson, Ericsson)

2nd Period

0:47- (Det)  Franzen (White, Kronwall)

1:57- (Tor) van Riemsdyk (Unassisted)

11:50- (Tor)  van Riemsdyk (2) (Unassisted)

14:19- (Tor) van Riemsdyk (3) PP (Grabovski, Phaneuf)

3rd Period

2:15- (Tor) Kessel (Bozak, Gunnarsson)

3:24- (Det) Quincey (Zetterberg, Filppula)

19:53- (Tor) MacArthur EN (Lupul, Grabovski)

This was the NHL 13 Simulation of the 2013 Winter Classic that would have been played today. These two teams will get the opportunity to play their Winter Classic next year in 2014 in Michigan.

Happy New Year!

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NHL 13 Provides a Breath of Fresh Air Wed, 24 Oct 2012 13:52:51 +0000

It’s hard to believe today, but back in the early 1990s, EA Sports’ Madden football franchise actually played second fiddle to the NHL videogame series. The NHL videogame was truly groundbreaking, and it provided many casual sports fans with their very first glimpse of then-budding superstars like Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny and Jaromir Jagr. Perhaps most importantly, the unique “above the ice” perspective gave those casual fans a much clearer understanding of what was actually happening on the ice than they were able to get with the traditional broadcast-style presentation utilized in predecessors like Konami’s “Blades of Steel.”

Without debate, EA’s NHL series has taken huge strides forward, and in recent years its critical acclaim (if not its sales figures) have consistently trumped that received by the Madden games. Continued revolution in both presentation and game control have made the NHL franchise perhaps the best sports videogame franchise (full stop), and the innovations in this year’s edition will certainly help that cause. Most notably, a new skating system – called True Performance Skating – actually manages to provide a far greater level of control over the players on the ice without making the controls needlessly difficult.

Click here to view the embedded video.

For my first match-up, I went old-school, returning to my Long Island roots to have the Islanders (in their old-school blue uniforms) take on the Washington Capitals (in their classic whites) at Nassau Coliseum. The Caps have a serious skill advantage, but by employing an aggressive, hard-hitting style, I was able to contain Ovechkin and company pretty effectively. The ability to instantly get a defensive player to switch to skating backwards (using the new skating engine) was a huge help, and I came away with a strong 3-1 (including an empty-net goal at the end). While I was on the power play, I could clearly hear Louie from Oceanside yelling for my player to “Shoot the Puck.” Now, I don’t know for sure if it was actually Louie, but if it wasn’t, you sure could’ve fooled me. The atmosphere in the game was truly electric, evoking the Nassau Mausoleum at its most energetic, and the game played beautifully from start to finish. Perhaps most importantly, unlike in Madden – where the commentary conflicts directly with what’s actually happening on the field, often to a hilarious degree – the commentary here was consistently accurate and relevant.

In my next game, I tried out the Winter Classic experience. The default option was to play with exactly the same rosters the Rangers and Flyers used on New Year’s Day 2012, making the game experience a bit of a time capsule. The visuals were unquestionably stunning, with the game engine handling the much larger stadium environment very smoothly. I didn’t notice a huge difference in the on-ice play, though the announcers referenced potentially impactful wind conditions. If I had a quibble with the Winter Classic, it’s a very minor one: the audio seemed a bit muted, less dynamic and energetic than what I experienced at the Nassau Coliseum.

As the weather cools and the NHL’s labor dispute inevitably continues into the winter, NHL 13 will for many fans provide a much-needed substitute for the real game on the ice. With its terrific realism and enhanced skating controls, NHL 13 will help hockey fans get their fix, offering up a really exciting gameplay experience that extends online with Hockey Ultimate Team. This mode allows gamers to operate in a hockey world without career lengths or a salary cap, acquiring and assembling top players from around the world, then taking on friends or opponents from a massive online community.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Montreal Gazette is using NHL 13 to simulate the entire 2012-13 season, with Canadiens beat writer Pat Hickey and Gazette tech expert Eric Tobon doing the honors. In the latest game, the Habs defeated the Caps 3-1, with Carey Price stopping 35 of 36 shots. The Gazette is certainly not the only one using NHL 13 to replace the “real” NHL, so please feel free to share your experiences below.

NHL 13 is without question the most advanced hockey simulation ever released, and it manages to build on the impressive NHL 12′s best features without making the gameplay more complicated. It’s nice to see that despite having an exclusive license – there are no real competitors available on the PS3 or Xbox 360 – EA Sports isn’t resting on their laurels. Instead, they appear to be fully dedicated to aggressively innovating and maintaining what is a truly terrific hockey videogame experience, better each and every year (and in the case of this season’s offering, better by leaps and bounds).

NHL 13 is available now at and

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Retro Rangers: Another Kind of Winter Classic Sun, 05 Feb 2012 02:04:57 +0000

On Sunday February 9th, 1969 the Northeast was hit with a snowstorm that started in the Carolina’s and moved up the coast. Weather forecasters confidently predicted that the precipitation would change to rain by the afternoon, but Mother Nature had something different in mind. Instead the storm intensified and dumped more than 17 inches of snow on New York City and 20 inches on Long Island.

It wasn’t quite the storm of the century but it had quite an impact on the Northeast, the political future of John V. Lindsay, the mayor of New York City and a hockey game between the Rangers and the Flyers that was scheduled to be played that night at Madison Square Garden.

These days the NHL would probably postpone the game due to the traveling conditions for both the teams and the fans. But back in 1969, if there was a game scheduled, they did the best they could to play it.

At the time a large contingent of Rangers made their winter homes in Long Beach, a bedroom community about 25 miles east of Manhattan on the south shore of Long Island. Sensing that a heavy, stable vehicle would be needed, Arnie Brown commandeered teammate Orland Kurtenbach’s station wagon and started the long trek to the city, picking up fellow Rangers along the way. Ron Stewart, Reggie Fleming, Dave Balon, Rod Seiling, Walt Tkaczuk, Brad Park, Vic Hadfield and Jim Neilson all piled into the station wagon and ultimately took turns driving and pushing the car through the snow covered roads. “A little snow never hurt anybody”, Brown told reporters when he finally arrived at the Garden. “We rode over dividers, through snow banks, everything”. “I never saw anything like it” said Balon a native of Wakaw, Saskatchewan that sees it’s share of snow each winter.

Meanwhile Donnie Marshall, Phil Goyette and Harry Howell needed a police escort to make it from their Glen Oaks homes in Queens to the subway that took them to the Garden.

Back up goaltender Don Simmons came to the Garden earlier in the day before travel conditions became difficult. And city dwellers Rod Gilbert and Bob Nevin took a cab from their Upper East Side apartments.

But as the afternoon progressed, there was no sign of starting goaltender Eddie Giacomin as well as Jean Ratelle and Larry Jeffrey. Sensing that he might not have the requisite two netminders available for the game. General Manager, Coach and former goalkeeper Emile Francis signed himself to a $1 contract in case a back up for Simmons was needed. Francis was 43 at the time and hadn’t played since he retired in 1960, but this was an emergency and if he was needed, he was ready.

It turned out that at 3 pm Ratelle, Giacomin and Jeffrey hopped on a Long Island Rail Road train bound for Penn Station, right beneath the Garden. But they never made it. The train got stuck in Elmhurst, Queens and they spent the night on the train until the tracks were cleared the next morning.

The Rangers opponent that night, the Philadelphia Flyers had played in Boston the previous night and were experiencing their own travel problems. Their train was stuck at a frozen railroad switch north of the city.

So at the usual 7:05 pm starting time, the visitors locker room was empty. The Flyers eventually made it to the Garden by 8pm, but their equipment didn’t show up for another 30 nervous minutes later at 8:30.

The game finally started at 9:15 pm with 5,273 hardy souls in the stands.

Guy Gendron scored for the Flyers 5:30 into the first period, Then Don Blackburn made it 2-0 in the second period and things really looked bleak for the Blueshirts when Andre Lacroix made it 3-0 early in the third period.

But then the Rangers stormed back on goals by Tkaczuk and Goyette making it 3-2 with about five minutes left. Francis pulled Simmons with 40 seconds left in the game and Bob Nevin scored to tie the game.

“What a night this has been!” Francis later told reporters..

“Okay guys”, Brown was heard yelling in the dressing room, “ready for the ride home?”

The Rangers night might have been over but the fallout from the storm didn’t end so quickly for the city or Mayor Lindsay. The city and suburbs were paralyzed for three days and the streets of Queens were snow covered for a week causing a disruption in mail service, buses, milk and bread deliveries and trash collection. Lindsay was heavily criticized for not responding to the situation quickly enough and jeered when he tried to make a good will visit to Queens later in the week.

Later that year he lost the Republican Mayoral primary, but ran as an independent and won re-election. However he was never really able to shake what became known as the “Lindsay Snowstorm” and his political career, including a failed run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1972 was never the same.

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NHL Firsts Are Made of These Tue, 03 Jan 2012 17:24:23 +0000

The Flyers may have lost the Winter Classic to the New York Rangers, but there are certain moments you never forget…like scoring your first career NHL goal before 46,967 fans in the NHL’s most popular regular season game of the year. Brayden Schenn was that lucky guy who scored his first career NHL goal during the Winter Classic.

The last player to score his first career NHL goal in the Winter Classic was Danny Syvret, also a Philadelphia Flyer at the time, back during the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston during the Bruins’ 2-1 win over the Flyers.

“It’s nice to get the first one,” Schenn said. “It’s good to get it out of the way. It’s something I can build on…I’m going to keep on building on this and hopefully keep on improving.”

Schenn was the first to break the scoreless game at 12:26 into the second period. The Flyers were able to build off of that when Claude Giroux scored another one at 14:21. Thirty seconds later, Mike Rupp from the New York Rangers scored his first of two goals. Brad Richards would score the game winner at 5:21 in the third to give the Rangers a 3-2 win over the Flyers.

The comeback win put the Rangers first in the Atlantic Division.

Jagr Injury

If you were watching the Winter Classic, you would have noticed that the camera rested on the hockey legend Jaromir Jagr throughout the beginning of the game. He ended up leaving the game during the first period, returning in the second period, only to play 68 seconds and then sit out the remainder of the game.

Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette was quick to respond after the game that he did not bench the legend.

Instead, Jagr informed the media that he has a new leg injury. This one is a new one, not an old one.

“I got hurt in the last game,” Jagr said of the injury. “There was a swelling in that muscle. Maybe it was because it was too cold and I couldn’t heat it. But when there’s a swelling in the muscle, you never know what can happen.”

Jagr decided to return to the game and sit on the bench for the remainder of the game, even though he knew that he wasn’t going to play.

“First of all, I like my teammates. I wanted to part of that. I knew things weren’t going to get any worse if I sit out on the bench. I wanted to be part of the bench. I’m part of the team. Why sit here? I was going to watch it on TV anyway. If I was close, I could help the guys.”

As far as the gravity of the injury, Jagr responded that he would be back in the lineup soon.

Mike Rupp’s Salute

Rupp had a good night, scoring the first two goals for the Rangers. After his first goal, he did something very reminiscent to hockey fans everywhere…he performed the Jagr salute.

When Jagr was asked what he thought of Rupp’s salute, he replied, “I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. He decided to do it. I mean, he scored, and it was a good goal, too.”

Rupp’s second goal celebration was very reminiscent of P.K. Subban’s celebration. Whether Rupp was trying out a few borrowed celebrations in order to find his own, fans are responding awkwardly to both. Then again, Rupp isn’t known to be a goal scorer…considering these two Winter Classic goals were his second and third goals of the season.

Let’s just hope Rupp either finds his own way to celebrate rather than becoming that guy who steals everyone else’s celebration traditions.

The Winter Classic Tradition

The strange thing about the Winter Classic tradition is that every team wearing the dark colored jersey ends up winning the Stanley Cup the following year. This goes all the way back to the inaugural Winter Classic game in 2008 when the Penguins wore their blue jersey and ended up winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. In 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks wore their black jerseys, and then won the Stanley Cup in 2010. In 2010, the Boston Bruins wore their black jerseys, and won the Stanley Cup in 2011.

The Pittsburgh Penguins wore their dark jersey in the 2011 Winter Classic. If tradition continues, they’ll win the Stanley Cup this year, and the Philadelphia Flyers will win the Cup in 2013 (barring a lockout).

Another strange statistic coming out of the Winter Classic lies with the away teams. Away teams playing in the Winter Classic have gone far into the Stanley Cup playoffs, only to lose. If the tradition continues, the Rangers will go far this year in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, only to lose.

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Winter Classic a Hit in More Ways Than One Tue, 03 Jan 2012 17:18:34 +0000

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – If you are NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, you are feeling pretty good about yourself these days. The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers put on a Winter Classic that went so well that the league he runs has now become something pretty darn special, something he couldn’t say roughly 10 years ago when the words lockout and bad TV ratings were a part of the norm when mentioning the NHL. Those days are over.

The NHL is now synonymous not only with a quality event in the Winter Classic, but TV ratings have gone up every year since the lockout of 2004-05 as well as the quality of the game. Now the other three major sports are taking notice and are thinking of finding ways to put on something special like the Winter Classic. College basketball tried a game on board an aircraft carrier and called it, wait for it, the Carrier Classic. Even the Campaigner in Chief, oh sorry, I mean Commander in Chief showed up for the event. If you missed it, don’t feel bad, everyone except fans of North Carolina and Michigan State didn’t see it either. What’s next, a basketball game in a bowling alley to be played at… you guessed it, Bowling Green University?

That said, I can see the day when the NBA decides to open their season at the Rose Bowl, or MLB plays its first game ever in a football stadium? Oh wait, they tried that already. How about the NFL plays in a hockey arena? Oh yeah, tried that with the indoor football league. Still, Bettman can feel pretty good about how things went with this year’s Winter Classic.

“We had a terrific day,” he said. “It’s not every day that an event can actually equal or exceed the hype and the buzz that goes with it, but I think we had — without regard to who you root for — a really terrific day. The fans here in Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia were great. Obviously, there were a number of fans who traveled from a great distance to come here, as well, and that was great to see. And this event continues to grow and get stronger, as evidenced by the ancillary events, such as the Alumni Game two days ago. So we thank everybody who was involved, and we felt we had a really good day.”

What is great about the event isn’t just about the game itself anymore. As mentioned there was the highly successful alumni game that occurred two nights before, Penn State will play a college hockey game at the Winter Classic on January 4th and the AHL will join in on the fun Friday night with the Hershey Bears and Adirondack Phantoms renew their rivalry at the Classic as well.

Overall the event has become a celebration of hockey, not just a game. It’s also become a celebration of the franchises who host the event. So many lessons learned from this weekend’s events that people are taking note, and notice from all across the sports world. One gets the feeling that the best is yet to come.

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Staal Returns for Rangers in Winter Classic Tue, 03 Jan 2012 14:35:23 +0000

PHILADELPHIA – He had long ruled it out.

Marc Staal, injured with a concussion and out the entire season, had ruled himself out of the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

“I kind of wrote it off for a long time, just because when the day came and I wasn’t playing, it wouldn’t bother me as much,” Staal said.

Then, last night, in a lengthy phone conversation with his doctors, Staal heard the words he’s been hoping to hear for months.

“We’ve been in constant contact with Dr. Cantu and our medical staff,” Staal said in the victorious Rangers locker room after a 3-2 win by New York in the NHL’s showcase event. “I had a long conversation with him yesterday, he said it doesn’t matter if you get hit tomorrow or you get hit five days from now, it’s not going to make a difference in the effects on you. He said if I was physically and mentally ready to play a game, he had no problem with me jumping in.”

The Rangers defenseman, long-regarded as the Rangers top back-liner, gave his teammates a huge jolt of adrenalin when they heard he was cleared.

“I was really impressed with the [temporary] ice [surface at Citizens Bank Park], but I was almost more impressed by Staal coming back,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. ”I actually didn’t know he was going to play the game. When I saw him out there, I was shocked.  It’s not easy coming here and playing your first game in [seven] months. Outstanding. The confidence he will bring to our group is going to be big.”

“I thought he was really good,” said fellow defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has stepped up to Dan Girardi’s left side in Staal’s absence. “He definitely just has a presence about him when he’s out there, with his big body, his big reach. He’s tough to get around. He’s so good with the puck, he’s smart positionally, he’s an All-Star. It’s no coincidence he steps up in a big game for us.”

Rangers coach John Tortorella, while making the announcement shortly before 1 p.m. Monday afternoon, said he was going to ease Staal back into the lineup after he hadn’t played since last year’s playoff series against Washington.

Staal played only 12:41 and registered one hit. But his play on the penalty kill late in the third period is what resonates with his teammates the most.

“He played some crucial minutes,” said McDonagh. “He was huge on that penalty kill with five minutes left in the third that I took. I was just really happy that he’s progressed so well, and that he was able to get into this game, contribute, and help us win.”

Bringing Staal back into the lineup meant Tortorella had to make a gut-wrenching move; Jeff Woywitka, who expected to play, was forced to watch the Winter Classic from the press box.

“I feel terrible about taking Jeff out, he’s in that lineup and ready to play this type of game right up until last night after the meal,” Tortorella said. “I don’t feel great about that, but he was terrific when I talked to him. He understands if Marc Staal says yes to me, he’s going to play.”

It will take Staal some time to regain some of the skills left rusty by his long stay on the injured list. But no one around the Blueshirts are concerned. They’ve got their top defenseman back on a blue-line that has already proven itself as one of the best in the league.

“The game was pretty quick for him, he admitted it early on those first few shifts,” said Tortorella. “There were some mistakes here and there, but it’s great to have him in the lineup.

“It was definitely different,” Staal said of his first game back being a jaunt in the open air. “I jumped on the ice in warm ups; seeing pucks, seeing guys, everything was kind of flying around. I knew if I was seeing that, everyone else was too. I thought because of the enormity of the event I could squeeze in there and do my thing, take some hits, and go from there.”

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