NHL's Snowy Stadium Series Game At Soldier Field Makes For "Visually Stunning Affair"
The Blackhawks on Saturday defeated the Penguins 5-1 in a Coors Light Stadium Series game at Soldier Field, and as "goofy and gimmicky as outdoor hockey is, it’s hard to argue with the cool factor of playing a big, nationally televised game in front of 62,921 fans in a driving snowstorm," according to Mark Lazerus of the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. The snowy conditions at the game "made for a visually stunning affair, particularly in the first period, when the snow was at its heaviest" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/2). In Chicago, Mark Potash wrote, "If you missed it, you missed more than a hockey game. You missed an event. ... And what an unforgettable event it was." While it was a "tough night for hockey" with 17-degree temperatures and blowing snow drifting down, it also was a "great event to watch" for the fans who filled the stadium. The fans "loved it" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/2). In Pittsburgh, Chris Adamski reported, "The snow, wind gusts and temperatures in the teens led to wind-chill factors hovering around 0." However, that "did little to chill the enthusiasm Penguins fans had for the opportunity to watch firsthand their team play outdoors" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/2).
HOCKEY HEAVEN: In Illinois, Tim Sassone writes the game was not Wrigley Field for the '09 Winter Classic "in terms of aesthetics, but it was equally as entertaining" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 3/3). In Chicago, Steve Rosenbloom wrote under the header, "Hockey Like It Oughta Be." This year's Stadium Series and Winter Classic "make for better exposure and greater benefits because provincial tops nationalistic." A hockey game in a football stadium "in football weather -- the NHL got this tradition right" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 3/1). Also in Chicago, David Haugh wrote, "This was the most magical Chicago sports memory in a snowy climate" since former NFLer Brian Urlacher "hoisted the trophy" for the Bears after the '06 NFC Championship game. It was a "great idea for Chicago and the NHL to stage this on the lakefront" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/2). ESPN CHICAGO's Jon Greenberg noted, "About 60,000 fans sat in near-blizzard conditions to watch a regular-season hockey game in a football stadium." Blackhawks RW Kris Versteeg said, "Every time there was shovels on the ice, you sat back and looked around and kind of marveled at the people and how amazing the setting was." While fans at the game "had a blast, the dollars and cents of playing stadium games continues to make perfect sense." Hockey "gets stronger in America with every passing season as more and more Americans remember which channel games are on without a lengthy guide search." The Blackhawks and Penguins "are very likely the most popular" teams in the NHL "south of the Canadian border" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 3/1). Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz said of the game's impact, "What it does is it brings in people who are normally not thinking about hockey; it expands the reach. It brings people in from out of town and it’s great for the city. At least 20,000 fans are coming in for Pittsburgh and in general, and those not going to the games are going to their favorite watering holes to watch the game. So it’s great for restaurants and bars" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 3/1).
HERITAGE FOUNDATION: In Vancouver, Brad Ziemer notes the retractable roof at BC Place "remained closed" for yesterday's Senators-Canucks Heritage Classic game, which drew a sellout crowd of 54,194. The Senators won 4-2 (VANCOUVER SUN, 3/3). In Ottawa, James Gordon writes rainy weather forced the roof closure, so the "outdoor Heritage Classic, which didn't feature all that much heritage to begin with, was played indoors." Of the NHL's six outdoors games, "this final one was probably the most difficult sell." Gordon: "Could stadium fatigue be setting in?" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/3).
NHL'S EXPERIMENT WORKS: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "The NHL seems to have emerged unscathed from its experiment in outdoor saturation." However, there was "indeed at least a perceived weariness factor" for Penguins-Blackhawks. Still, the media's "weariness didn't necessarily represent or reflect fans' weariness." In the end, it "appears the NHL gauged the public's appetite for the game out of doors just about right." Burnside: "Cool? Hell, yeah. Times two. Would we want to contemplate six more next season? Hell, no. But, luckily it doesn't appear the NHL is, either" (ESPN.com, 3/2). SPORTS ON EARTH's Peter Richmond asks of the NHL's '13-14 season, "Wasn't it the coolest NHL season in recent history? These six outdoor games?" The games "gave us a six-pack of insanely great hockey." Richmond: "How hypnotizing was the blizzard-game in a packed Soldier Field Saturday night? ... How perfect was the night of Jan. 25, in balmy Dodger Stadium" when the Ducks beat the Kings (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 3/3). The PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW's Adamski wrote, "The outcome and quality of play are almost secondary to the event" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/2).
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? ESPN’s Adnan Virk said the number of Stadium Series games for critics is "diluting how unique the experience is." Virk: "Beware Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League. There is too much of a good thing." The Winter Classic has been a "resounding success, a marketing dream," but the slate of six Stadium Series games was like "binge watching all the movies nominated for 'Best Picture' at the Oscars” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/1). In Chicago, Ed Sherman wrote, "There is the risk the NHL could erode the novelty of the outdoor games by doing too many of them." NBC Sports Exec Producer Sam Flood said, "Everyone is going to step back and look at all of this. The league has to decide what it wants to do. I could see doing three or four of them. I'm not sure we need to be doing as many (as six)" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/1).