New Year’s Day: A time to reflect on the previous year, look forward to the year ahead, and maybe even relax and watch your favorite sport. While football is busy retreating to unnaturally warm climates for bowl games, the NHL takes to opposite approach. Every year, the Winter Classic finds a new outdoor venue to showcase the world’s best players. While it isn’t exactly getting back to many players origins, playing on ponds, lakes
or makeshift rinks in backyards, playing professional hockey in an outdoor setting does call one back to earlier days when the setting wasn’t so controlled or organized.
What actually began in 2003 with the Heritage Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, the league announced that the Winter Classic would be an annual event starting in 2008, with rotating teams and locations. The game’s success has even spawned a spin-off event, the Stadium Series, and re-ignited the Heritage Classic, which started back up in 2011.
This year, two teams who have previously played in the Winter Classic will return to the outdoors. The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres will meet at Citi Field. Here are a few things to watch for.
Buffalo is bad. This isn’t news, but, they do have some great players making their first outdoor appearance. Jack Eichel is the marquee name in Buffalo, and he finally gets a big stage to play on. It will be interesting to see if the venue change and knowing this is THE game that day will have any effect on his play. Scott’s boy Evander Kane is the team’s leader in most offensive categories, including penalty minutes. He’s been fairly consistent month to month, but his goal scoring has seen a dip in December. This would be a great opportunity for him to turn heads and show a national television audience Eichel isn’t the only elite goal scorer on the team.
The Metro division is, to use a soccer analogy, the Group of Death. If the playoffs started today, (I understand it’s WAAAAY too early to use that kind of language, but hear me out) the Metro would own 5 of the 8 seeds. First place New Jersey and seventh place Pittsburgh are only separated by 8 points. This means that every point is critical, even at this stage of the season. Though this is a celebration of hockey and ultimately a spectacle, at the end of the day it’s still a regular season game and the Rangers need every point they can muster.
It’s expected to be 16 degrees and no signs of snow when the puck drops, so the weather shouldn’t be a factor, aside from possibly sun glare off the ice. Expect the ice surface to be hard and fast (just the way Scott likes it). This should benefit the Rangers, as they are the deeper team and have more speed on the wings, but Buffalo has the more explosive duo in Eichel and Kane. Buffalo is considered the home team, so they’ll be able to dictate matchups, ideally keeping both of them away from Ranger’s shut-down defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
The first intermission will be highlighted by a performance from Buffalo’s own Goo Goo Dolls, so anyone nostalgic for ‘90s alt-pop ballads, you know where to be around 2pm New Year’s Day.
The football games that actually mean something don’t start until 5pm. That’s plenty of time to nurse your hangover on the couch and take in a unique sporting event; a regular season game that players of both teams are genuinely excited to play in. It’s the perfect scenario for those of you who have yet to partake in the joy, speed and beauty of NHL hockey to ease your way in. New year, new hockey fans!
LET’S DO THAT HOCKEY!