Greetings and happy 2018 from Citi Field, where the Rangers and Sabres lace ‘em up in the 10th annual Winter Classic.
The event first took place in Buffalo in 2008, two years after the labor issues forced the 2005 season to be cancelled. Seeking ways to market and promote the league coming out of that lockout, NBC and a select few in the NHL’s marketing office did a good job of convincing all involved, the owners, the management and the players, that this would be a good thing.
That first Winter Classic would see Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby win the game in a shootout over Buffalo. I am not sure anyone would have predicted how well this game would showcase the league but any early trepidation about whether it would work or not has certainly fallen to the wayside.
Having grown up in a rural community in Canada, where winters seemed longer and life seemed a little simpler, it was routine to play outside.
When I was not much more than seven or eight years old, a family across the street would flood their yard with water. It would freeze and we would play neighborhood pick up hockey for hours on end. There was very little to no parental involvement, where the organization and the ensuing game was left to the imagination of the kids who were participating.
Not sure that this is the case so much anymore, and while I will apologize for being nostalgic, I am sure that today’s child could gain life-benefit from all that was learned by playing hockey outdoors on a pond, driveway or a neighbors’ flooded yard.
I spoke with a number of players over the past week and all were very excited to be taking part in the game.
Henrik Lundqvist felt that the game provides a nice break in the long regular season. Rick Nash spoke of dealing with the elements and recognizing the magnitude of the event. The candor of Marc Staal was particularly refreshing though. Due to the number of family expected and the ages of his own young family, Marc has taken a suite at Citi Field to keep everyone a little warmer.
When I asked Marc if he was looking forward to playing in his fourth outdoor event, after pondering a second or two, he responded by saying he would probably enjoy it a little more by watching in the warmth of the suite with a couple of chicken wings and a beer with his family! Love that guy.
And finally, how about Ranger rookie Vinni Lettieri’s first week in the NHL? You get the call to join the big club after an injury sidelines Chris Kreider.
First game, at the new Little Caesar’s arena in Detroit, you score your first NHL goal with your grandparents, parents and assorted family members in attendance. Next up, all that entails participating in the Winter Classic, an international event surpassed by very little. Third game, Wednesday night at The Garden against the Blackhawks on a nationally televised NBC Sports Network game. Finish the week off with a trip to Arizona and Las Vegas for games against the Coyotes and Golden Knights. I wonder if his outdoor experiences as a kid in Minnesota ever included a week of dreams like the week he will experience.
3 KEYS TO RANGERS-SABRES
1. Keep It Simple
The elements are conducive to a simple game. Wind blowing, ice shavings accumulating and sun glare call for very limited thinking about anything beyond taking what is given.
2. Respect the Sabres
Buffalo has garnered three out of a possible four points in their past two games. Despite the struggles of the season so far, this is a team led by Jack Eichel, who will turn the corner. The Rangers must not facilitate that turn today.
3. Get to Robin Lehner
Getting pucks and bodies to the Robin Lehner will offer an opportunity to rattle the Sabre netminder, who is subject to getting rattled and giving up that one that probably should have been stopped.