Saturday, January 2, 2010
The Winter Classic: A True Classic or Snooze Fest?
A day after Bettman's saving grace, The Winter Classic, a fair amount of hockey writers have weighed in on whether this Classic was up to snuff. Ross McKeon gave it the ol' "it can't...get better than this," Yahoo's Greg Wyshynski called it "underwhelming...with a thrilling finish...", Scott Burnside at ESPN.com said it "hit all the right notes," The Hockey New's Adam Proteau called it the "pinnacle of the event...", and NHL.com's Shawn Roarke gave it a baseball metaphor (something Edzo and Doc were guilty of way too many times during the event), calling it "the equivalent of a walk-off grand slam." Indeed, outside of Wysh there was plenty of hesitance to criticize the event.
But was it really worthy of all this praise? I had the luxury of logging into Yahoo's Puck Daddy Live Blog and joining in on the fun. I show up as "Arthur Fonzarelli" by 1:53pm(ET) there, but what was more interesting was the vibe given off by the group (hockey writers and commenters alike) that the game was largely a dud. The best comment was given by Wyshynski himself at 4:02pm(ET), before the end of the third period (and before Boston's first goal), where he writes: "So this is where the Bruins score, we go to OT, there's an OT goal, and we're all like 'OMG best classic evah!!!!1!!!!" And that was precisely what happened.
Let us not gloss over the incredibly dysfunctional game play, carried on by two teams that have been slow out of the gates this year. You can't blame the NHL for that; the Flyers and Bruins were two of the best the previous year. But the missed passes, choppy puck movement and control, poor defense, and missed shots (Good GOD, the missed shots!) made for some soul-sucking hockey. Arron Asham got a breakaway, for Chrissakes, off a poor defensive turnover by Zdeno Chara (who, thankfully, was not naked for the game). Yes, there were opportunities, but when you can only generate excitement from a first period fight and a fluky goal, and have to be held over by an equally soul-suckingly bland interview with the soft-spoken members of the 1980 U.S. Hockey team (no offense, but could we please give them interesting questions and less than a 20 minute interview?), it isn't that great.
About that fight, between prominent goons Daniel Carcillo and Shawn Thornton: thank you guys. You brought it early, so those outsiders could see what it's like before changing the channel, and you gave the regulars a nice, compact dust-up. Complete with a KO. And this was after Thornton's well-publicized reluctance to fight in the Classic; hopefully getting punched in the face in the cold wasn't too bad. Either way, it was good to see that the Classic wasn't necessarily being treated as sacred ground, a place where the NHL puts its nastier moments on hold for the NBC broadcast. Bettman may be uncomfortable about it, but the state of the game needs to be presented on the big stage, and fights are a part of it. Plus, it appeased the masses that wanted a fight, kept them watching, and Carcillo was good to let it end as civil as possible after he caught Thornton with a wicked right. Fighting enthusiasts had to love the teams tapping their sticks on the boards as the two went to the bin.
I'll leave my comment on the Flyers goal to two sentences. Thomas has played that way most of his career; it was only a matter of time before he gave one up like that. Congrats, Danny Syvret, on your first goal - I hope your second doesn't involve a wrister from the blue and a goalie not paying attention.
Oh, and one final dose of negativity: what the hell was that attempt at "Sweet Caroline" with Lenny Clarke and Denis Leary? Not only did they not finish the song, but I think the crowd was too confused to sing along. It seemed like an attempt at a 2 minute warning, but ended up a truly awkward moment.
The other writers want to focus on the equalizer by Recchi and the OT winner by Sturm, and that's fine. We should be happy those actions happened, and also that the weather was ideal for the game. Without them, the game could have been a disaster.
In the end, that is the risk with these Classics; NBC is still a big network, and big networks want big ratings. We can't have an Ovechkin or Crosby to advertise every game, but maybe there needs to be an attempt to make for at least two marketable players for these games, a storyline that people will want to follow. The Carcillo-Thornton interviews were good, but we don't need fighting to be the focus; subjects like Tim Thomas's career, Pronger's balance of the good and the bad of the game, and Chara's rise from a novelty to a Norris winner were all good things to emphasize, but they weren't. As of right now, the venue itself is the focus, and between that and what goes on in the game, the Winter Classic still stands on shaky legs.