By: Luke Johns, KCOU Sports
In what has turned out to be a New Year’s Day tradition arguably as popular as the bowl games, the 7th annual Winter Classic is an event that always lives up to the hype. The 2015 version of outdoor hockey on New Year’s Day is expected to be no different, and will feature some of the best the NHL has to offer. This time, the game is in our nation’s capital.
“The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic has made New Year’s Day a highlight of the season for NHL fans everywhere,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press release reported by CBS Washington. “Nationals Park provides an ideal setting for all the excitement, entertainment and fun as the Blackhawks and Capitals bring our outdoor tradition to historic Washington, D.C.”
The Chicago Blackhawks will roll into D.C. to take on the Washington Capitals in a game where both teams feature perennial all-stars. Both teams have played in the Winter Classic before, Chicago in 2009 and Washington in 2011, and both those games had a unique pre-game buzz that the NHL makes a conscious effort not to repeat. For Chicago, the game in 2009 was the genuine idea of having an NHL game be played in one of the most recognizable baseball stadiums in the country. Sure the game was played against their then division rival Detroit Red Wings, but that was just the final cherry on top to make the pre-game chatter as exciting as can be.
For Washington, the game in 2011 was purely a marketable showcase of the rivalry between Alexander Ovechkin and Sideny Crosby, the two best players in hockey at the time. With the NHL being a distant fourth in popularity among the American sports, the league uses the aspect of outdoor hockey with a theme to promote one game on a holiday that will bring many eyes to the television set.
The game itself has a score when it is over, but ultimately it is more than a game to the players and fans. For the players, it’s an opportunity to relive their childhood hobby of playing outdoor hockey on the pond, while this time getting paid to do it. For the fans, it’s a drama filled game to where the unusual aspect of an outdoor NHL game between usually elite and high profile hockey teams is an opportunity no fan wants to miss.
It doesn’t count for anything more in the standings. At the end of the game the winning team receives two points. But it’s the memories that are made that define the contest’s legacy. Whether it’s Boston’s Shawn Thornton being in the first ever Winter Classic fight, or Crosby’s shootout goal to win the game, or last year’s game in Ann Arbor, Michigan breaking an attendance record. Memories to go with the atmosphere in playing in an outdoor stadium, and of course the gameday jerseys that are designed specifically for the event are what make the game so special.
What will it be this year? Will there be a memorable goal, play, finish? Or will it simply just be a showcase of a premier team in the Blackhawks versus a premier player in Alexander Ovechkin. We will see when the puck drops 1 p.m. Eastern on January 1.