NHL Winter Classic Preview

The Winter Classic is upon us again, only it’s on the 2nd of January instead of the 1st, stupid NFL. This has quickly become one of my most favorite sporting events of the year. Whoever thought of the idea to have an annual game, outside in a baseball or football stadium is just a genius. It is only the 5th year, but it seems like it’s been around forever. Every year the jersey have an old-school feel to them, and it adds a level of excitement to the game. Wind, snow, rain, sun anything could be a factor in the game, and it could even be all of the above, you just never know.

This years matchup might be the most intriguing of any of the matchups so far. I think the Rangers and Flyers truly have the most hate for each other of any of the teams that have played in the previous Winter Classics and it should be a very good game. The Flyers are just 2 points away from the top spot in the Conference with, guess who, the New York Rangers. The matchups between the Rangers and Flyers this year have been hard fought, gritty games. One might say they even have the old NHL feel to them, with more hitting and fighting than scoring. So what a fitting matchup to have during this Winter Classic. Also, if any of you have gotten to watch any of the HBO speacial 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic, you get a great look into the behind the scenes of these teams, and you get to learn each players own story. I have only gotten to see one epsidode, but am looking forward to watching the rest.

So I like the road team in this game. The Flyers have lost Pronger for the year, and he was arguably the biggest part of that team. A leader on and off the ice. and the best defensmen they had, it’s tough to be the same team after losing a guy that good. The Rangers are a great team this year, and their first place in the Eastern Conference backs that up. Name that Staal, Marc Staal is playing in his first game since February of last year after he suffered a nasty concussion. He is a great player that the Rangers get back. If you read my blog a week ago about concussins in the NHL, you would know I am a fan of fighting in the NHL. While fighting is down and nearly non existent in Winter Classics, these teams have too much hate for each other to play a different type of game. Brandon Prust always drops the gloves against the Flyers so look for him to be active today, maybe another bout versus with Wayne Simmonds or Jody Shelley early in the game. Expect another hard fought game, with good energy and emotion, and for the Rangers to out-muscle the Flyers in a 3-2 thriller.

Concussions in the NHL

Lately there has been, it seems like, an NHL player getting a concussion every night. The NHL has no idea what to do and need to figure out a way to improve player safety. In my opinion, these concussions are a result of players not being able to police themselves on the ice. For the longest time, fighting was a huge part of hockey. After the lockout in 2004, the NHL made attempts to revolutionize the game, making it much faster, high paced, and incorporate more scoring. In doing so, the NHL has nearly taken fighting out of the game. Teams stack their rosters with scorers and many teams do not even carry one enforcer on their roster.

Now here is where I will try to make some sense of all of this. With the art of fighting nearly disappearing, players are skating around looking for big hits wherever they can find them because, hey, you aren’t going to have the other teams 6 foot 5 250 pound enforcer pounding your face in every other shift you have. There are no consequences for these players making these big hits. Pre lock-out, if you made a run at someone, you better believe you would have 3 or 4 guys coming after you. Now, with strict instigating rules and suspensions being handed out like candy, the players are not being allowed the opportunity to police themselves.

The NHL needs to take a step back and reevaluate what they are trying to accomplish. There are consequences for having a high paced, finesse game rather than an old school type of game. Fighting will always be part of the game, and players will always fight at their own risk. Embracing the art of fighting rather than trying to push it away will make some of these players think twice before they go for a center ice hit or throw an elbow to someones head. There are three things in hockey that get the fans out of the seats; goals, fights and beer. As Coach Herman Boone once said, ” Let the boy’s play”.