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Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press
Welcome back to another edition of Dear Abbey. I don’t give life advice like the real Dear Abby, but I do talk about hockey.
What a month it’s been in the world, eh? COVID-19 spread throughout the NHL so quickly that multiple teams were forced to shut down ahead of the holiday break, the break itself was extended and the league decided not to send players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
But in more positive news, the IIHF World Junior Championship kicked off on Dec. 26 and the Winter Classic is fast approaching. This year’s edition of the New Year’s Day outdoor game will take place at Target Field in Minneapolis and feature the Minnesota Wild against the St. Louis Blues.
As of Monday, the Wild remained the only team in the NHL without a single player or coach in COVID-19 protocols. The Blues have five players in protocol. St. Louis is right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and sure could use two points against the Central Division’s best.
Snow is on the ground in the Twin Cities, and Accuweather forecasts more for New Year’s Day. It should be a perfect, wintery backdrop for the league’s signature outdoor game. So, we decided to ask the B/R hockey community what backdrops they would want to see for future Winter Classics.
It’s the holidays, so let’s have some fun. I’ll hand out more grades, as I typically do in many of these mailbags, but consider this extra credit because readers submitted some pretty good locations.
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Mark Lennihan/Associated Press
Rangers vs. Isles in Central Park
Or if it was possible, Rockefeller Plaza rink or Times Square
A few years ago, the Calgary Flames held an off-day practice on Lasker Rink at the top of Central Park. By all accounts, it was a pretty enjoyable experience. Outdoor hockey brings nostalgia and memories of skating on frozen ponds in backyards and hometowns, but skating outside in New York City has a different feel. You get a little bit of nostalgia on the small outdoor rink, but anyone who has ever spent time in the city can tell you that it has its own soundtrack and feel. You have views of the iconic skyline, you have the constant city noise, the sirens and the locals, who are known to be a bit loud.
The challenging part of this game would be seating. However, if COVID-19 necessitates playing in empty buildings once again, then maybe a city rink that isn’t capable of holding stands would be a creative way to pivot. Last year, the NHL staged outdoor games on Lake Tahoe without any fans. The game didn’t come without its challenges, like the sun melting the ice, but it was a way to hold a marquee event safely during challenging times.
There were also suggestions for the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils to play in MetLife Stadium, which is just over the river in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Meadowlands was the site of the Devils’ original rink, so it could be a cool way to give a nod to the Devils’ history. Plus, the city rinks aren’t NHL-sized, whereas a football stadium would have more than enough space.
Final grades for the New York/New Jersey area destinations: A
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Barry Reeger/Associated Press
Flyers vs. Penguins at Beaver Stadium would be nasty
This was a pretty popular idea, and having the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins face off in the middle of the state would be a cool way to showcase hockey in Pennsylvania. Michigan Stadium served as the site of the 2014 Winter Classic, and it made for some great visuals, so I would imagine a game at Happy Valley would provide the same. The Penn State hockey program has had success since becoming a Division I program in 2012-13, so if we’re trying to highlight hockey in the Keystone state, then it makes sense to bring some attention to a growing program.
I didn’t see this one from readers, but holding a game at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, the site of the Little League World Series, might bring a “Field of Dreams” type of element to an outdoor game. Williamsport isn’t far from State College either. It would be two completely different vibes, but the local feel is part of what makes these outdoor games so great.
Final grade: A
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
CBJ vs. DET at Ohio Stadium
DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY AT THE BIG HOUSE!
While we’re on the subject of Big Ten stadiums, a lot of readers want to see another outdoor game at the Big House. And why wouldn’t they? I was able to watch a high school game from the 10-yard line of Michigan Stadium in 2011, and it was a fantastic experience. The place really is, well, big. It’s cavernous, and it’s quite a sight when the stands are full.
But there has never been a college game or professional game played at The Shoe in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets are obviously the prime candidates for a game in Ohio Stadium, and I love the idea of having them host the Detroit Red Wings to keep with the Michigan-Ohio State college rivalry theme.
Final grade for the Buckeye fans: A
Final grade for the Wolverine fans: B
Sorry, Michigan, let’s give Ohio a turn this time.
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Wild vs. Jets on the USA/Canada border, Lake of the Woods
Leafs vs. Flames at Lake Louise
Though the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers make the most sense, any two teams at this location would make for a fantastic experience. Lake Louise is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever visited.
There is also a practice facility nearby in Banff, Alberta. The Anaheim Ducks practiced there during their 2015 playoff series with the Flames. Former coach Bruce Boudreau decided to use the extra off day to have the team bond in Banff. They played golf and went on some nature hikes, with a few players even spotting a couple of bears along the way. It sure seemed to work, considering the Ducks won that second-round series in five games.
Minnesota, Manitoba and Ontario all border Lake of the Woods. A frozen pond in the middle of Canada would be a great place to stage a game that means so much to those territories. The Winnipeg Jets and the Wild are the obvious candidates as well.
There are safety concerns with having a game on a frozen lake. The Lake Tahoe games were played on a rink constructed right on the shoreline of the Edgewood Tahoe golf course, so maybe there is a way to build a similar setup on one of these lakes. There are also some logistical concerns I’m probably not taking into account, but we’re playing a version of fantasy hockey here, so for the sake of the exercise we’ll just say that there is a way games on frozen lakes could be played.
Final grade: A+
If you have a chance to go to Lake Louise, you should take it.
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Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press
Wild vs. Blackhawks at Lambeau Field. One of those cities might finally get to know what it feels like to win there.
Quite the zinger from DGF1119, whom I’m guessing might be a Green Bay Packers fan. Haven’t the Chicago Blackhawks played in enough outdoor games already?
Lambeau Field has hosted college hockey games but never an NHL game. Sure, the state may not have an NHL team, but Wisconsin does have a rich hockey history with successful college programs and the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. Green Bay is also the home to the USHL’s Gamblers, and there is another USHL team in Madison, the Capitols.
It’s a historic sports venue, so NHL team or not, it would be a perfect place for a Winter Classic.
Final grade: A
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Tampa vs. Fla in Tampa, but they could make Marlins Park happen
Clearwater Beach would be amazingly cool.
Florida Teams playing at UF, FSU or UCF
Desert out in Vegas (by Seven Magic Mountains)
SF Giants Stadium, Rose Bowl, Central Park or Ottawa Canals
Getting out there, but how about Sharks vs. Kraken on Alcatraz in SF? Sea creatures surrounded by the water.
California has hosted two outdoor hockey games. In 2014, the Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings played in Dodger Stadium. There are mechanisms that made it possible to host a game outside in balmy, 60-degree weather. But it was sort of a test run to see how outdoor hockey would work.
A year later, the San Jose Sharks hosted the Kings at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. So a southern game can be done, and judging by the comments from B/R hockey fans, there is clearly an appetite for a game in either California or Florida.
A game featuring the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning would be exciting right now, but South Florida might be a little too balmy. There was another suggestion for a game at the Grand Canyon, so clearly fans in sunny states want to see some outdoor hockey.
As a California native, I’d love to see a game in the Rose Bowl or even the Los Angeles Coliseum, but for my pick I’m going north to Oracle Park in San Francisco, where the Giants play. The views are stunning, there is a fanbase already in place and McCovey Cove can be exceptionally cold.
Shoutout to MattEch too for the creativity of not just the locale, but the overall sea creature theme too.
Final grade: A
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Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Caps-Pens on the National Mall
I have absolutely no idea how to pull this off with seating and security, but I love the idea. Imagine the overhead views of a rink constructed right on the mall: Alex Ovechkin ripping a one-timer from the circle toward the Washington Monument, and Sidney Crosby making plays in front of the president.
Some of these outdoor games are about optics, and a game on the mall would certainly provide them. The Sacramento Kings played an outdoor exhibition game in front of the California State Capitol building in 2013, and it made for some pretty great photos.
These downtown games are a creative way to get outside of the typical stadium settings. Sure, they pose challenges, but there are track and field events in Europe held in the middle of downtown streets, so why not try to play a hockey game in the middle of the city as well?
Final grade: A
A lot of A’s were handed out today, but they were well deserved. The Winter Classic is all about going outside of the rink and outside of the norm.