Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter Classic: The road to hell can be Zambonied, too

It will happen to the best of us, so surely this NHL beat writer won't get any grief. He certainly had good intentions when he suggested possible sites for a future Winter Classic.
"TORONTO VS. OTTAWA AT FRANK CLAIR STADIUM. The rink for the Ottawa 67s junior team (and the original expansion home of the Senators) is wedged under the stands of this former Canadian Football League stadium, so facilities shouldn't be an issue."
-- Raleigh News & Observer (emphasis mine)
One can certainly think of one big issue -- kablamo! -- with the sports facilities in that part of Ottawa. (The reporter obviously did some Googling and Wikiing, but evidently, did not do enough -- it happens.) It is worth taking under advisement, notwithstanding that daytime highs of 15 Celsius in January will be a reality in Ontario by the time both the Leafs and Senators are Stanley Cup contenders again.

There's an odd juxtaposition with the Winter Classic. That is the best half-assed excuse for why it's taken until two days before the Red Wings-Blackhawks outdoor game at Wrigley Field to post on an event that is kind of a big deal.

It is odd and off-putting how the NHL has to piggybacking on baseball and football's culture and tradition to sell itself. Those who believe it's going to win the NHL all these new fans from the ranks of people who "can't tell a hockey puck from a curling ball," (Carol Slezak, Chicago Sun-Times; emphasis mine again) is as delusional as, well as the stereotypical Chicago Cubs fan. Nevertheless, if it came to your city, you'd stand in ankle-deep snow to be part of it.

Beyond that, it doesn't seem terribly important. It is a sop to the NHL's marketing wing and its "relentless overpromotion of this one-day outdoor event at the expense of any decent promotion of its daily indoor product" (Luke DeCock, ahem, Raleigh News & Observer). Sports fans typically get that this is a trade-off of having something to feel in your nights and weekends. There is the sport, and there is the promotional side, and following it is one of long series of compromises and compartmentalizing until you just wish Derek Jeter was dead (and he'd still be elected to start at shortstop in the baseball all-star game for the next two or three years).

Anyway, the point is the Winter Classic doesn't seem so brutal or bilious. Above all else, it is a scene, for sure, and the endgame in Buffalo last season, with Sidney Crosby sniping the shootout winner in a snowstorm, was legendary. (Especially if you, as I did, watched highlights the next day on YouTube without knowing who had won the game, due to having been in transit on New Year's Day.)

An event being overhyped is really only a chattering-class concern, and anyone who's annoyed should channel it into writing about some other topic. That being said, and this is with the full acknowledgment this is a twitburger thing to say, the Winter Classic promos on the CBC is running that use the music to Take Me Out To The Ballgame have caused some major brain sear.

It's mildly offensive as a baseball fan -- Back off, puckheads! It's bad enough that I can't read an article about a Canadian baseball player without hearing some cutesy lead-in about how he wasn't much of a hockey player, or listen to the Blue Jays post-game show without some whiny Torontonian inflicting half-baked hockey hullabuloo on a sport that is so much different -- and majorly offensive as a Canadian. The NHL has an 80-year-plus history in the U.S., and it's using MLB and the NFL to sell itself. They'll be trotting out Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, who also spent some glorious afternoons at Wrigley Field, playing another sport.

One way to compromise is taking comfort in knowing that an event that puts a great Canadian sportsman such as Ferguson Jenkins in the limelight is for the greater good. Not enough Canadians under the age of 35 know about Fergie, so if he gets some face time with CBC Sports on Thursday, the Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks outdoor game at Wrigley Field will be worthwhile, seriously. A whole generation of Canadians under 35 needs to know about Fergie Jenkins -- the only pitcher with more than 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks, and he spent his entire career in hitters' parks, much of it with the Cubbies.

There's a sliver of hope. Fergie Jenkins gets some CBC face time, Mike from Canmore and his dog, Norm, get enlightened thanks to the greatest Canadian ballpayer's two-minute appearance on a hockey telecast. C'est la vie. It should be a good one on Thursday.

After Wrigley, where does NHL Winter Classic go? (Luke DeCock, Raleigh News & Observer)

1 comment:

Sportsdump said...

an ideal Canadian location for a future NHL Winter Classic could be the world's longest skating rink... The Rideau Canal - our nation's captial, an endless stream of shacks to buy Beaver Tails, perfect! they could close the road that follows the canal to erect temporary bleachers; what a view!