by Mike Chen on 12/31/08 at 04:05 PM ET
On the eve of the Winter Classic (oh, there’s something about a new calendar year happening tomorrow too), I took a look out the window to the gray skies and morning frost of this early Northern California day and pondered whether the NHL would ever bother trying something like that in Sharks territory. I know Sharks ownership actually inquired about it, including proposing a few feasible locations, but I imagine a California Winter Classic is way, way down on the NHL’s selection list. If it ever happened, I’m guessing we’d have already exhausted the Original Six and Canadian teams several times over.
Still, just like Jim Carrey said in Dumb and Dumber, the fact that the league actually listened to the Sharks means that there is a chance. Ok, but are the logistics feasible?
One of the proposed spots is Stanford Stadium, which is just a few miles from my house. I’ve lived here for about six years now, so I think I have a pretty good gauge on the weather. First off, if you’ve never been to the Bay Area, it’s not like Baywatch (that’s southern California, and I was seriously asked that question several times when I worked as a bartender in London), so our winters are actually winters. However, they’re California winters in that the cold isn’t cold compared to much of North America (40s to 50s) and it doesn’t snow, though it does rain.
Can a Winter Classic happen out here? Here’s something to consider: here in Palo Alto, there’s an outdoor rink that stays open during the winter. It’s not used for hockey, but for figure skating and public skating. So there’s Exhibit A. Exhibit B is something the Sharks put on every year. Holiday Ice in downtown San Jose is an outdoor rink that lasts for about two months during the holiday season, and the Sharks probably have an enormous electric bill keeping it going. I’ve skated there once or twice in my life and the ice is terrible—probably a combination of the elements and the actual number of people going there, as the last time I went, you had to wait in line to get on the ice.
So even without exceptionally frigid weather, an outdoor rink can be made out here in the Bay Area. Moving it up 15 miles out of San Jose and over to Stanford Stadium isn’t a bad idea, as the peninsula area is generally cooler due to its proximity to the bay and the ocean.
How will the ice be? Well, that’s a good question. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get a report on how the Wrigley ice is but the ice in Buffalo wasn’t all that great (though the poor conditions did spawn that pretty cool Sidney Crosby bobbling-the-puck-on-his-stick moment). As I mentioned, Holiday Ice is terrible to skate on, but you’ve got public skaters getting shuffled on and off the ice like cattle. Over at Sharks Ice (the four-rink facility where the Sharks practice), playing hockey on a post-public skate can also be bad, though not nearly as bad as Holiday Ice.
I think if they ever made it happen, a reasonable thing to do would be to dry scrape the ice at the second TV timeout of every period. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll work.
The other question is weather, as rain would be a definite possibility. What happens then? I’ve played hockey on slushy rinks before and that’s bad enough as is, so I can’t imagine how it would be if it was actually pouring down while you skated. In fact, I’m thinking it’d be damn near impossible, which puts the whole notion of a snow-less Winter Classic in jeopardy. I’m no expert at outdoor rinks, so that’s just a guess.
From a business perspective, one has to wonder if the NHL would consider doing this when A) California teams tend to have less national appeal and B) without the possibility of snow, the whole spectacle aspect gets diminished. If this is your big showcase, the smart business thing to do would be to rotate the most popular teams (that is, Original Six plus which ever teams are leading in merchandise sales for that particular year) in an area where you can get awesome TV shots of snow drifting down on a breakaway. That won’t happen here. And if the money doesn’t lead a trail, there’s a good chance that the league won’t even sniff down that path.
Yeah, there is a chance and it seem relatively feasible…but only if Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin get traded to the Sharks and they play an All-Star mix of players from the Leafs, Rangers, Red Wings, and Habs. So you’re telling me there’s a chance…
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