Lacing Up: All Things Winter Classic
The late Ashley Gallant was the originator of “Lacing Up,” and its reincarnation is in her honor. Each week, Matt Paul, Zach Boslett, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF.
Zach Boslett: Matt, the Winter Classic is getting so close and it’s difficult not to be excited!
Do I have tickets? No. Will I be going to the Alumni game? No. Will I be skating on the public rink leading up to the event? No. Am I excited to hear Styx perform “Renegade”? No.
But I am excited to see outdoor hockey in Pittsburgh. But I am a little bit wary of the direction some of these preparations are going. Styx? Is this 1981? I guess Chaka Khan was already booked…
Matt Paul: Leave it to the NHL to blow the Winter Classic on so many levels — but I’m not so sure Styx is a bad idea. Let’s face it, Styx is and has been a staple at Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL) games for years. The Winter Classic will be at Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. Why not have Styx play “Renegade,” a well-known song that serves the purpose of pumping up Steelers fans?
That being said, there are quite a few things I do find fault with. Why can’t the NHL find legitimate, relevant musicians to participate in their events. When the NFL has a big event, like the season kick-off, they bring in world-class talent, like Dave Matthews Band, Black Eyed Peas, and Tim McGraw. The NHL gets a 10-year old to sing the national anthem, the lead singer of a 1990s band (Bare Naked Ladies) to sing the Canadian national anthem, one-hit wonder Hinder to perform a mini-concert, and local favorite but nationally ignored Clarks to also perform a mini-concert.
I can understand the Clarks and Styx. But Hinder? Come on.
And why was the alumni game overlooked for so long? This is something that has been done in the past, including last year, and was pretty popular. The Winter Classic is an event that should be promoted from all angles, and having some of the greatest players in the history of the game on the ice at the same time is, well, kind of noteworthy. Why was this thrown together so last-minute, and why did it take Mario Lemieux to come up with the idea?
Maybe, had the NHL higher-ups put some thought into the Winter Classic, they would have been able to promote this alumni game. Then again, it almost seems as if they don’t want Lemieux and company to overshadow the extremely overdone Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin rivalry. I mean, it would be terrible for Lemieux to take the ice with fellow legends Ron Francis, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy (among others) in front of a sold out Heinz Field crowd and a live television audience.
Where’s the logic, Zach?
Zach: My main qualm with your Styx – Steelers argument is… when did this turn into a Steeler event? Why is Franco Harris dropping the puck for the first faceoff? He was a spokesman for Harrah’s Casino during the casino license debacle – a casino in favor of letting the Penguins leave the Pittsburgh for Kansas City. I just don’t understand why a Penguins event featuring the three top players in the NHL has to market the game with Steelers legends and general non-hockey people.
That being said, what’s done is done and I hope this event does not turn into a Steelers PR event with a hockey game being played.
As for the Alumni game, boy am I upset I could not get tickets to see some of my childhood heroes playing hockey again. Even though it is a friendly game, just to see Lemieux, Francis, Coffey, Tocchet, Stevens, Roberts and Billly G skate all at the same time would be something great.
I guess I can just sit on my couch and watch it live. Wait… no? Why on earth is this game not being televised live?
When I heard that I will have to wait to Jan. 5 to see this game nearly ruined it for me. Completely absurd. FSN should do it if NHL Network won’t do it.
Matt: First off, Franco. I completely dislike this decision. As you said, Zach, he wasn’t on board with the idea to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh through the means of funding through gambling. I have no problem with cross promotion between the NFL and NHL teams, but there are a lot of retired Steelers — Jerome Bettis, for example — who would have been much better in this role.
But to your larger point, what’s so wrong with promoting the Steelers, who graciously allowed the Penguins and NHL to use their facility in the middle of the NFL season? To be quite honest, I like it. It shows solidarity amongst professional teams wearing the black and gold. I’ve heard and read quite a bit of hate about Styx and whatnot — including one comment that essentially said no Steeler representative, not even Dan Rooney himself, should so much as show his face — that disgusts me. I’m not necessarily referring to you, Zach, but why do Penguins fans seem to have such much hate for the Steelers, who have shown nothing but strong support for them over the years?
And, as for not televising the alumni game, my only explanation is that, despite what officials say, the NHL is afraid a game featuring Lemieux will overshadow the actual Winter Classic game. Unfortunately, all Winter Classic events are NHL-primary events, meaning they have the final say on broadcast rights, etc. In other words, FSN is handcuffed.
Zach: The thing with the NHL is that they need as much publicity as they can get to promote their own game. Do the Steelers really need anymore publicity?
In other news… how about that weather report for January 1st? From what I have heard the temperature won’t matter as much as the rain that is in the forecast. A wet ice surface means the puck will not move on the ice. A major problem for a National Hockey League game.
A postponement could be disastrous for the NHL and their ratings but playing a sloppy, messy hockey game could be worse.
Matt: To your first point, how is playing Styx promoting the Steelers? It’s simply building on a Heinz Field tradition. When the game was played at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, was not the baseball tradition/heritage kept in mind? It’s not about promotion, but rather making the game more appealing to a wider variety of people — while not watering down the game of hockey (unfortunately, like Mother Nature has plans on doing…but more on that in a second).
I’m not sure how much more the NHL could promote the NHL in the Winter Classic — unless it utilized bigger name/more popular bands. To be quite honest, I actually think having some Steeler traditions involved promotes the NHL, in a way. It’s showing that the Steelers approve of the Penguins and the NHL. If they didn’t approve, the game would be played at PNC Park, where all the Pirates are looking for is revenue.
On to the topic of weather. Oh boy. Our in-house weatherman, Mike Adams, is not predicting the best of weather for the Classic. The cooling system the NHL uses allows for warmer weather, while still having a quality ice surface. Heck, I was just watching an outdoor game from the early 1990s (featuring Tony Granto, by the way), between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings in Las Vegas. If a game can be played there, 45 degrees won’t be a big deal.
But, as you said, the rain (should it come) will be. More so than the puck movement, I’m worried about players’ health. Anytime you put players in unpredictable weather on a less-than-perfect ice surface, the risk of injury increases. While the Winter Classic has become a staple of the NHL and is a fantastic event, I’d hate to see a star player, or anyone for that matter, get hurt as a result of poor conditions because the NHL wanted ratings. The fact is, though, the worse the conditions, the more ratings the NHL could get. NHL fans and non-fans alike watch this game for its novelty. It’s different. People understand the conditions impact the way the game is played. Remember the Penguins versus Buffalo game? The conditions were terrible, and the game was played at a snails pace. The ratings were high, the event was a huge success, and the game was, well, pretty bad.
On Broadway, the adage is, “the show must go on.” In the NHL, there should be a footnote. The game will go on…if it’s safe for the players.
Zach: The problem I had with all of the baseball tradition games were that they were more of a tribute to Wrigley Field and Fenway Park rather than a pond hockey NHL game played in huge hockey markets.
As for the rain… since when does the NHL (or the NFL or MLB) care about the safety of their players? The NFL is trying to add more games and MLB refuses to outlaw ash bats that break too easily and turn into flying spears or death. The NHL refuses to suspend star players for dangerous plays and are inconsistent in their punishments. They also refuse to switch to no touch icing despite the current system being very unsafe.
So I have no doubts the safety of the players has not even crossed Bettman’s mind – all he sees is dollar signs. And moving the game will cost some serious money and it will mess up NBC’s television schedule.
Although moving the game may avoid having the Winter Classic go up against the New Years Day NCAA Bowl Games.
Either way, the Winter Classic has been manhandled and mismanaged into a hockey spectacle much less interesting to me than I thought a hockey game in Pittsburgh could be.