Lets face it NHL, it stopped being Classic the second you let the Flames participate in one.
Now sure, here in Canada those events were called the Heritage Classic, but we all know the truth. The Oilers and the Canadiens did something remarkable and the rest of the league got jealous and wanted to do it themselves. Fine. Whatever. Truth be told, the only one I was ever remotely interested in was the Edmonton game anyway. And, I would have watched that game if it was on A-Channel and played indoors. Either way, the Oiler vs Canadiens was and still is the champ.
The Winter Classic today is a huge marketing opportunity for the NHL. Huge ratings, big TV coverage, a 24/7 special that leads up to it, the whole meal deal. Big money involved, very little heart. Back in 2003 it was all about the fans. All about going back to play the game the way it was meant to be played. Outdoors, in the cold, shoveling the snow between periods, wearing your toque. It brought you back to when you were just a kid and playing hockey was actually fun.
Now I’m no fool. The Oilers and Canadiens marketed that game, sold way more tickets, and I’m sure made a pretty penny, but it wasnt a heartless event that was expected to be there like the AllStar game. Not that anybody in Edmonton expected to ever see an All-Star game played in RX1 ever again. That’s what the Winter Classic has become. It’s a corporate event and a faux All-Star game. How many times does Sidney Crosby need to play in one before it becomes too obvious?
Back in 2003 it was Cold. Actually, cold doesnt begin to even describe it. It was so cold that they almost cancelled the whole thing. Well if that doesnt remind you of your playing days as a child then I dont know what would. Wondering if its too cold to play, secretly hoping it was, then getting told to get your ass out there only to have the most fun you’ve ever had. -30 with the windchill in effect, the heaters had to be brought out. The fans didnt have that luxury but who gave a shit?
The truth is that what made that game in 2003 a Classic was the fact that the old Oilers and old Canadiens were playing a game before the official NHL game. This was a Classic to be sure. All the familiar names were there except a few, but most importantly Wayne Gretzky would be wearing Oiler Orange and Blue again. All the Captains were there and wearing their C’s. Gretz was there and guys were trying to get him the puck so much it was getting a little ridiculous but the truth was that every hockey fan was just dying to see Wayne Gretzky score one more for the Oilers. Nostalgic. Vintage. Classic. What a thing to see! All those old Oilers grinning from ear to ear, wearing their old silks, Grant Fuhr flashing the leather like he was 23 again, playing a child’s game with child-like enthusiasm. Classic.
When the league game started with the current Oilers playing it was much more business as usual and serious save for the toque on Vezina winning goalie Jose Theodore’s helmet. Perfectly attached as if he was simply wearing one, it stayed on his helmet. In a game the Canadiens won it was easily the most iconic image of the actual NHL regular season game. I bet the Habs sold more toques that year than they ever had before.
Now that was a Classic. If THAT was the event the NHL cancelled today then I might have a bigger problem. Today the NHL cancelled the Winter Classic, the contrived event made less for the fan and more for the money. Today was the day the NHL told the PA that whatever leverage they thought they had was nothing more than a shadow cast by their own stupidity. Outside of the fact the game was outdoors the Winter Classic has nothing in common with Edmonton’s Heritage Classic.
Lets be real though, the second they let the Flames participate in one with those fake Ronald McDonald retro jerseys the term Classic needed to be reconsidered anyway.