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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

2012 Winter Classic

Yesterday the NHL took the game of hockey back where it all started, outdoors. What began as a dream for young kids skating on backyard rinks and frozen ponds, became their reality when they made it to the NHL. Monday afternoon 40 professional hockey players got to be kids again, enjoying the game in the great outdoors, where it all started. Monday Afternoon marked the 5th time, a NHL hockey game had been played outdoors, this years match up was between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers ended up winning the game 3-2, and moved 4 points up on the Flyers for 1st in the East.

Ever heard of Michael Rupp? No, well don't worry I hadn't either. Well I've heard of Michael Rupp the fighter, but the goal scorer? Believe it or not it was the goal scoring of Rupp and the goal stopping ability of Lundqvist that stole the show, and helped the Rangers stay in first. The game was actually fairly decent; the weather co-operated, there were tons of goals scored (sort of), and there was drama, lots of drama. The HBO 24/7 crew could not have scripted the game any better, than it ended up; Let's look into some of the drama;

Right away, after the Canadian National Anthem was sung, the whole ball park erupted into what sounded like a chorus of "boo's", which gave everyone who disliked the Flyers and their fans, more reason to not like them. There was also suspicion that a picture of Claude Giroux had been placed on the jumbo screen and the fans were chanting "roooo". But I personally like the first situation better, so that's what I'm going to stick with. Next up on the drama stage was an apparent injury to Jagr. After the first period Jagr never stepped foot on the ice, and had his "butt nailed to the bench" as the commentators stated at least 8 times. Jagr said his leg had swelled up and just couldn't skate properly. 
"It was getting worse and worse," he said. "I just couldn't skate hard, and I didn't want to be there (just) to be there. I knew at that point I couldn't help my teammates." Despite the Flyers being without Jagr and their captain Pronger, they jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the second period. With Jagr being out, Giroux had all eyes on him, and he didn't let anyone down, he scored the the Flyers 2nd goal and re-took the lead as the NHL's leading scorer. 
Oh and how could I forget, Brayden Schenn scored his first NHL goal! Could a player have a better game to score his first goal in? I couldn't be happier for the junior Schenn, it's been a rough year for him, since being acquired by the Flyers in June. He was unable to crack the roster out of training camp due to a shoulder injury, then when he finally got his chance in the NHL he broke his foot blocking a shot in his 4th game, then 2 games after he returned, he went down with a mild concussion. He finally returned to the line-up December 27th. Through the 37 games so far this season, Schenn has played in 18 of them, but failed to record his first NHL goal. Scoring in the Winter Classic, kind of makes up for the rough start, and hopefully is the start of things to come for Brayden. I've always liked Brayden Schenn since his World Junior day, this kid is going to be a top notch players in years to come. Speaking of players that have been injured this season; the Rangers welcomed back injured defenceman Marc Staal, on Monday afternoon. Staal wanted to play in the Winter Classic, and got his wish. Staal had missed all 37 prior games due to a concussion. He averaged around 12 minutes of ice time, but had a difficult time with the pace of the game, so Rangers head coach, Tortorella limited his play. Flyers fans were quite excited and confident that their team would hold on for a victory. But que the unlikely hero; Mike Rupp, despite playing just 7 mins and 34 seconds of the game, the Winter Classic veteran came up big and ultimately saved the Rangers bacon. Just 30 seconds after Giroux scored giving the Flyers a 2-0 lead, Rupp scored his first goal of the game, and got the crowed stirred up after giving them the Jagr salute. When asked about the goal, Rupp played innocent, claiming he didn't even know that was Jagr's move. The move landed Rupp as a trending topic world wide on Twitter, as his agent Allan Walsh noted. But Rupp wasn't done their, 2:41 into the 3rd period, he scored his second goal of the game, and tied the game up at 2's. Rupp had played in last years instalment of the Winter Classic as a member of the Penguins, a game in which he took a beating. He was one of the few Rangers who had skated outdoors in the Winter Classic before, and gave an inspiring pre game speech. The the big free agent fish Brad Richards potted the 3rd Rangers goal a mere 3 minus after Rupp's goal. Richards goal proved to be the game winner. 
Then with 20 seconds left the referees awarded a penalty shot to Daniel Briere. This was really, the most dramatic scenario in the entire game; a penalty shot, 20 seconds left, and a one goal game, plus their probably shouldn't have been a penalty shot in the first place. Never the less is was Daniel Briere vs. King Lundqvist with 20 seconds left, the game on the line; Lundqvist stood strong and stopped Briere, helping ice the victory for the Rangers. Briere gave credit to the likely Vezina trophy candidate after the game; "This game was going to overtime. That's all I had in my mind as I stood at centre ice and waited to take the penalty shot in the last minute today. Coming in on Lundqvist, I had beaten him once on the blocker side, once on the glove side. He had stopped me a couple times before as well in shootouts, but I was still convinced I was going to score. I tried to surprise him with a quick little shot, unfortunately he was quicker than me. I've got to give him credit for that."  Lundqvist was the story of the game, and arguably stole the game for the Rangers, making 34 saves and a .944 save percentage. But the intense nail biting drama didn't stop after the final buzzer ended the game; Rangers head coach John Tortorella, made his feelings known about the officiating of the winter classic; “It started with the non-call [when] Gabby was pitch-forked in the stomach, and then everything starts going against us. They’re two good referees; I thought the game was refereed horribly. "So I’m not sure what happened there. Maybe they wanted to get it to an overtime. I’m not sure if they have meetings about that or what. But we stood in there. They’re good guys. But in that third period, it was disgusting.” Tortorella didn't stop there; he then raised the notion of the NBC and the refs having a meeting to send the game into OT. A conspiracy if you will. I think there has to be some truth to what Tortorella was talking about, OT equals more excitement, which equals better ratings and more money for both the NHL and NBC.

And who could forget when the news broke that the Flyers would not be starting Ilya Bryzgalov in the Winter Classic. Fans and media heard the news from Bryzgalov, who had not been given permission to tell the media about it. Then he jokes that his team would actually have a chance to win, with him sitting on the bench. Many thought Brzgalov was out of line, some think he's a $51 million train wreck, but few found his little act funny. But as Don Cherry from Hockey Night in Canada pointed out; "he's hurt; it crushed him, knowing he wasn't going to get to play in the Winter Classic."

But apart from all the drama; (which is actually good for the NHL). There was the 37th game of the NHL season to be played, and a big 2 points at stake. The ice held up, which was fantastic, compared to last years game, and no one was severely injured, big improvement from last years Winter Classic. I'd say, this years classic, was a ton better than last years; more exciting, better conditions, goals were actually scored and in dramatic effect. I didn't want the game to end.
I tried to enter the game as an impartial hockey fan, cheering for only a good game, as I am not a fan of the Rangers or Flyers. But I quickly found myself siding with the Rangers, and hoping they would skate away with the 2 points. I don't know why but I just can't warm up to the Flyers. Lastly my favourite part of the whole event; the specially made jerseys just for the game; The Rangers had the better jerseys and were much more creative compared to the Flyers. The Rangers had a nice off white pattern, with an old looking logo, it looked very heritage/ vintage and different. Where as the Flyers kept their usual ugly orange colour jerseys, and kept the same logo they always use. 

All in all, I'd say it was really good game and I thoroughly enjoyed watching, it started off slow as both teams were adjusting to the elements and environment, but after the 1st period everything picked up. I do love watching the Winter Classic, and the attention it brings the game, it gets people who generally wouldn't watch hockey, to give it a little look.
I believe the next 2 Winter Classic venues have already been chosen and are in the works, and sadly non of them are north of the boarder. Now there is no guarantee these are official; Detroit and Washington appear to be hosting the next 2 Winter Classics. (2013-2014)
Anyways I'm looking forward to Next years Winter Classic!

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