First Disclaimer, I am part of the cult of NHL hockey. I have followed (ok, it’s a lot more than just follow, I am True Blue and been a season ticket holder for 10 years now) the Rangers since the days of Kelly Kisio as captain, in the waning days of the drought, lived through years of the 19-40 chant. I saw Dennis Potvin play, and I can say he didn’t suck but hated him all the same when he destroyed Ulf Nilsson. I love the tradition of not touching the cup till your name is engraved on it. In 1994, I celebrated like I won the Cup myself, when Richter stopped Bure on the penalty shot and heard those famous magic words from Sam Rosen…”The waiting is over! The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup Champions! And this one will last a lifetime!”. I might be a touched biased, but I admit it.
The Winter Classic, January 2, Citizen Bank Park (now at 3pm due to weather), home of the Philadelphia Phillies, for one week the home of hockey. This is the brilliant idea to take hockey back outside to the frozen pond. Let the grown men be kids again and throw back to a simpler time. The event has become the Daytona 500 of hockey: A regular season game that is a little more than ” just another game” to become a grand way to celebrate the sport. The game counts for two points in the standings. The re-boot of an Original Six rivalry plus the HBO 24/7 sprinkled with NBC desire to compete with ESPN with the new NBC Sports Network this year has transcended the game into a little more special than just two points.
The Alumni Game came first, being played on Dec 31. It was fun to see Bernie Parent, at the age of 66, save a breakaway chance on Ron Dugay and go sprawling for another. I had bad memories as I watched the Legion of Doom linemates, John Leclair and Eric Lindros (for whom shockingly, the Philly crowd cheered for) score on a 2 on 1 break. Brian Leetch, Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Mike Richter all together gave me a chance to tell my son all about the magical 94 cup run. I don’t think he quite understood or cares as he is all of 19 months old. The Broad Street Bullies were represented which led my Dad to tell me at great length about great they were in the 70’s. One amusing sidebar is that Ron Hextall is one of the Off-ice ambassadors, which is ironic due to some of his escapades on ice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0XvVmBH0R0.
Monday, The Classic. Both teams have obliged the hockey gods by being two of the top three in the conference. They are fighting for the eastern top seed. Philly fans hate NY’er because they are blue collar and NY is white collar. The Rangers embrace their celebrity (just ask Brad Richards who comes to NY on a huge contract and immediately starts dating every G4 fanboy’s dream Olivia Munn). Philly thrives in them vs. the world attitude (Rocky Syndrome). Add to that, the championship tallies from the last 30 years and there is no wonder why every player from every Philly team carries every chip from every Phanatic shoulder on theirs every time they play a team from the Big City.
What does this fan want to see? Hard Hitting, some scuffling (ok fighting), low scoring, edge of the seat hockey. Playoff hockey in January. The HBO 24/7 show has put a personality on the game. Even if you just remotely like hockey and have HBO, I highly recommend this documentary series. The players, coaches and even refs playing a game they love and laying it on the line for themselves as well as the fans. The locker room and training room look-ins, to get an inside look at what it takes for some players to patch themselves up just enough to play the next game. Teams needing the rookies to grow up quickly and vets hanging on trying to get to the one place all hockey players want to be: Holding the Stanley cup over their head, and finally drinking from the cup for the first time.