Thursday, January 1, 2009

Capping The Winter Classic

Where to start, where to start? Today the NHL rang in the New Year with their second January 1st outdoor game, the Winter Classic in Chicago. But you probably know that. And you know that the Wings blew the Hawks out of the open sky 6-4. So, I will only quickly address the game itself, before adding some of the fun stuff I saw from Section 231 of Wrigley Field. A warning, this may get long and I have yet to peruse other blogs so I donno what is already out there (it keeps things pure that way).

Chicago stepped on the ice a motivated team and played a stellar, physical game for a period and a half. Then they either got cold or they became wrapped up in the moment or something, because they stopped playing. Detroit, meanwhile, recovered from their early frustrations (after that horrible missed boarding call on Lilja that somehow resulted in a Chicago power play, I'd be pissed too) and then started playing Red Wing hockey - something few teams in the NHL can handle. The Hawks are not one of those teams.

But, let's face it, this is a Ranger blog so I am not going to expound on the Second City's deficiencies ... at least those on the ice ...

When I was in Switzerland to watch the Rangers play, I spoke to Rod Gilbert and asked him what he thought of the atmosphere and the people there. His response was that he hated it because the people weren't hockey fans, they were just folks out to watch a spectacle and have a night out of the house. I wasn't so sure I understood what he meant until today, after seeing the Blackhawk fans around Wrigley.

I guess that is the kind of thing when teams get a buzz and the bandwagon gets rolling, but many of the Chicago folks seemed utterly clueless and were just there to see the show - not that there is anything wrong with that, but it certainly took something away from the atmosphere. The stunning thing about the Winter Classic last year was that you could feel the adoration for the sport in the air - it was tangible throughout Ralph Wilson and throughout Buffalo. Here? Notsomuch. Sure they were some hardcore fans there, but there were thousands upon thousands of brand new jerseys and seemingly brand new fans.

At the same time, there was a huuuuuge contingent of Detroit fans. In Buffalo, I was in the clear minority of those in Penguin sweaters (to never be worn again, I assure you) but here I didn't feel the least bit out of place in my Joey Kocur Wings jersey.

The bandwagoners spent most of the game chanting "Detroit Sucks" rather than "Let's Go Hawks" or, well, anything positive towards their team. And when the fans went back and forth at each other individually, the Chicago folks seemed to attack the Lions more than anything - seemingly not knowing that it was a hockey game. It was kinda sad. A few folks went off on the bailouts, unemployment and crime in Detroit (funny) but were quickly silenced by mention of the Illinois senator. Good times.

Reebok gave out handy little binoculars to help promote the 'missing logo' contest but not a single person in my area did any looking for patches, they were all wrapped up in the experience. The other promotion - a 'stunt' - proved to be hilarious. I don't know if it made the broadcast but they had us put signs up so the stadium would spell out two things (one for each side of the sign). The first was Happy New Year (aww) while the other was the Winter Classic title with the team names. When the folks wearing Hawks jerseys realized that they were part of the "Red Wings" they threw their signs away - it was quite hilarious.

On the other side of the coin, I have to say it was quite disappointing that the teams did not salute the fans after the game. They seemed to grudgingly lineup for postgame handshakes and then beat a quick path back into the locker rooms. The Wings waved individually and a few guys even threw out some pucks and their toques, which was nice. I could not see if the Hawks did the same but, judging from the way they left the ice, they did not.

Some other quick parting shots from Chicago:

*The weather was quite nice, just a little chilly. Most people were dressed properly and/or had handwarmers so there were few complaints.

*The league brought out the sparklers to flank the players' runway. It wasn't the towers of flame from last year, but it still looked kinda neat.

*The folks in the rooftop bleachers had better views of the ice than the people who spent $225 to be in the building proper. Not only were the field level seats incredibly obscured, they did not have video boards right in front of them as the folks in Buffalo did. There were just two boards suspended in either outfield. But those screens proved to be the only way some people could watch the game at all as the NHL sold every seat - including those with a post obstructing the entire view of the ice. My buddy got a pic of it and I will try to up it so you can see how bad it was. And that seat cost $225. Insanity.

*To the right is a pic of something crazy ... crazy cool! That is a couple of Blues Brothers impersonators who drove around the stadium in a Bluesmobile before the game singing classic songs from the movie and rooting for the Hawks. Now THAT is 'sweet home Chicago.'

*They did this whole Chicago Sports Legends announcement before the game introducing Ryne Sandberg, Ferguson Jenkins, Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and two others I don't remember or care enough to look up. Each player had a long-winded video intro before stepping on these small round stages by the batters boxes. Few people listened and fewer cheered but then the organizers decided to re-introduce them again for the ceremonial puck drop. NO ONE CARED. Here is this amazing spectacle of hockey outside and you are telling me about Jenkins winning the Cy Young nearly 40 years ago? Ugh!

*The Spectator Plaza that they talked about so much opened up late and was nothing more than a trap for sponsors to shamelessly promote their crap. But they had guys on stilts!! How could that not be fun? Actually, quite easily.

*There were a lotta jersey fouls present. Some were ok - the Hawks Griswald jersey is iconic, but others were not - an Obama Cubs jersey?? Not only doesn't the politician PLAY but he is a proud White Sox fan.

*And talking about shamelessness: the merch on-site at Wrigley was incredibly marked up. I guess that is to be expected but you could buy the same $72 hooded sweatshirt that they had at the ballpark at or at any of the licensed FansEdge stores around Chicago for $40. By my math, that is a 80% increase. The scary thing? The bandwagoners appeared to be buying up everything no matter the extreme gouging. (I managed to wait on buying the hoodie there but found myself lured in for a hat and a official game puck.)

So I guess when it comes down to it, the friendly confines were friendly - if expensive. A good buddy of mine just asked if I would go to the next Winter Classic or if the appeal has waned ... my response is absolutely; there is still something special about seeing the best sport in the world played outside of its normal confines and just, well, outside. Perhaps next year it will be in New York so I can root for my own team? Let's Go Rangers!!!!!


Sean Leahy said...

good report Scotty, sounded like an awesome experience.

the signs stunt did make it into the broadcast as they showed them from the plane circling above while players were interviewed right before the game.

and at the end, Byfuglien was already off the ice and on his way down the ramp to the dressing room before someone told him to go back on the ice for the handshake.

Sean Leahy said...

also, where was Wayne Messmer for the National Anthems??

Anonymous said...

Great entry. You are writing about a world I know nothing about. There is a large culture associated with pro sports most fans do not have access too. How do you afford all your travel and tickets? I do not have the same economic resources and hence must be content watching the games ton TV. I suspect this is the norm.

Scotty Hockey said...

Thanks Sean. It didn't matter who was around for the anthem, because you couldn't hear a damn thing in the stands. It was awesomely loud.

Anonymous said...

Here's Messmer and awesomely loud anthem for your viewing pleasure.

Go Hockey!!