Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thoughts on the upcoming Winter Classic

On New Year's Day, the Red Wings head to Wrigley to take on the Blackhawks in another installment of the "Winter Classic", a new NHL tradition for a league desperate for increased national face time.

It's working. Tickets originally priced at a maximum of $325 are selling for nearly a thousand dollars on StubHub, especially in a city with a revived love for its Blackhawks.

As just a casual hockey fan, I've still been checking the Chicago forecast daily hoping for a snowy New Years Day, just to enhance the experience. There's nothing quite like hockey with snow coming down in HD while fighting off a hangover. Snow looks unlikely now, but the excitement still builds.

Despite all this grandeur, I, being the over-thinker I am, began to think about the actual logistics and reality of dropping a hockey rink into the middle of a large baseball field.

Hockey, due to the nature of playing with a small puck in an enclosed area, can be difficult to follow for the average viewer. The league tried to assist in this over the years, but wisely decided to let the game be the game.

Wrigley field holds, when configured for baseball, over 40,000 people, nearly double the United Center's 20,500 hockey capacity. Many of these seats are nowhere near the shallow outfield where the ring is being placed. It's not just the capacity that's the issue, its the distance away from the ice of seats near the infield that concerns me. Baseball stadium seats are designed to focus attention toward home plate (unless you're at Fenway Park), not towards midfield. I can't imagine all the seats are particularly conducive to watching hockey.

On the other hand, playing the game in a football stadium was and is a perfect fit, as the rink is simply proportionally smaller than a football field, and all the natural focus would lead to a great viewing experience.

I'll clearly watch the game this year, especially with two hot contending teams, but I'll continue to root for 2010's game to match up the Flyers and Penguins at Beaver Stadium, which would be truly classic, once again.

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