Ah, the Annual Blackhawk Winter Classic. Or at least that's how it feels, since the Hawks have played outdoors in 2014, 2015, 2016, and now 2017. Some people have complained that this is too much, but not me. The big debate has become whether or not these games are good for the sport — and for the most part — reception to the idea has been positive.
In 2014, the NHL scheduled a whopping six outdoor games, and the attendance was still incredible for each one. The biggest one was the matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, which sold 105,491 tickets and treated fans to a shootout in below zero temperatures.
In other words, it felt like the pure essence of hockey. Two of the original NHL teams dueled to an epic finish — it doesn’t get any better than that for a non-Hawks game.
Wayne Gretzky certainly thinks so, having played in the outdoors 2017 Winter Classic alumni game. The NHL’s all-time points leader praised the event, calling for for more marquee events during hockey’s regular season.
The race for the Stanley Cup is very popular in the U.S., but sometimes the league has trouble attracting attention before the playoffs begin. According to Gretzky, special events like the alumni game are the answer.
Many of the players who participated in professional outdoor games have loved the experience, citing the feel of a classic game of hockey. And of course, the NHL loves these outdoor games, as ticket sales for them goes off the charts.
Outdoor games harken back to an age when artificial-ice arenas weren’t available to a kid wanting to play hockey. When you wanted to play hockey.
Encouraging outdoor hockey at a professional level can persuade kids to go play hockey themselves, even if they don’t have a quality venue available. While all the official equiptment can add up in price, if they want to play outside all they need are warm clothes, a frozen surface and skates, which can be as cheap as $40.
Hockey’s popularity has grown nationwide over the past few years, so kids will need more places to practice and refine their skills. This has increased the demand for more hockey rinks, but until local communities are able to catch up, there will have to be a way to get kids outside.
Besides just improving hockey skills, getting kids to exercise and play outside is a victory in and of itself. Let’s face it, a high percentage of children spend way too much time inside.
Future of Hockey
Outdoor hockey games are good for the sport. They have a vintage feel to them, helping illicit nostalgic responses from hockey fans everywhere.