by pcoffey on 01/02/14 at 07:06 AM ET
In terms of unforgettable moments, the alumni game at Comerica Park may linger longer in the hearts of hockey fans, but you cannot dismiss that the 2014 Winter Classic was a huge hit for the NHL.
Certainly seeing Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay together again and the "Russian Five" reunited on the ice one more time rate as must-see moments from the alumni game, as does seeing so many former NHL players turn back the clock. But New Year's Day also had plenty of moments for those who attended the actual Winter Classic to savor.
In fact, the crowd can savor itself, as 105,491 were said to be in attendance at the famed "Big House" in Ann Arbor. The league said 105,500 tickets were sold for the game, so only nine dropouts proves Wings and Leaf fans are a pretty hardy bunch to have withstood an average temperature of 13 degrees and snowfall that made the game picturesque, but something less than an artistic success.
"The conditions made it so some of the skill in the game was eliminated," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the 3-2 shootout loss.
"I don't know if you would call it a gem from a pace standpoint," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle agreed. "There was a lot of snow and a lot of things to deal with."
True. Game conditions were not ideal, but that is implied in the Winter Classic concept. You are taking an indoor game outside and embracing -- or battling -- the elements. To triumph at the Winter Classic, a team has to be able to overcome its traditional foe, and the elements. That requires a different skill set.
Water bottles were freezing, the wind chill dropped the temperature to around zero, there was glare from being outside that normally isn't a problem in an arena, and hell, the ball inside a linesman's whistle froze!
But wearing a toque over your mask, as Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier did, or wearing a balaclava, as many players on both times did, solved problems with the cold and the liberal use of eye black, cut down the glare. NBC's Pierre Maguire did his part to warm the whistle.
Namely, everyone employed the adapt and overcome concepts that are needed for success in the Winter Classic.
So, if the snow is starting to pile up on the ice, you need to change your game to adapt. The players and coaches talked about that during a solid NBC broadcast that saw the announcers adapt to having to keep the snow off their monitors and broadcast from a low vantage point by the boards. But Doc Emrick and crew did very, very well and NBC didn't skimp on equipment for the broadcast, using 82 cameras that provided some very cool -- pardon the pun -- views of the game and atmosphere in Ann Arbor.
Some of those views:
* Toronto defenseman Paul Ranger going a little overboard with the eye black, looking like a tiger when all was said and done.
* Defenseman John-Michael Liles dashing to the dressing room after finding out he had been traded to Carolina in the moments leading up to the game.
* The snow removal crew doing a bang-up job getting the snow off the rink. They are most welcome at "Casa Coffey" after any storm this winter!
* The snow building up on the bill of Mike Babcock's stylish fedora.
* Actually, both teams looked quite stylish in the throwback uniforms.
* Lots of great crowd shots where the fans displayed some great combinations of sartorial splendor, while keeping warm at the same time.
Too much? -- The TV ratings will be released soon, and some good numbers here will only cement the success of the 2014 Winter Classic. Quite clearly, the Winter Classic has shouldered its way into a crowded sports landscape on New Year's Day and become an event worth watching.
That being said, the NHL's decision to dilute the impact of the Winter Classic with more outdoor games this season remains troubling. Diluting your product is rarely a good idea. Just look at the unending number of college football bowl games as an example. Can anyone name, much less care about, the excess of games that at one time were good matchups?
Already, ticket prices in Los Angeles have been discounted for the game at Dodger Stadium between the Kings and Ducks.
“I’m a little concerned that were killing the golden goose a little bit here with all these outdoor games and ruining the uniqueness and specialness of these games,” former Wings great Steve Yzerman told reporters at the alumni game.
Still, Yzerman, now GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, seemed to at least consider the idea of a future outdoor game in Florida of all places.
“I think it’s something to consider if our organizations continue to improve and both [Florida] teams get better and more competitive. Let’s see how it goes in California.”
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About Iced Coffey
Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.