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January 8, 2014 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Enough is Enough

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer

Remember when hockey used to be played indoors?

You just can’t beat the atmosphere at these outdoor games, can you? I mean, half-filled stadiums with the people miles away from the action, either freezing cold, or hot-and-humid temperatures making for horrific ice conditions. It’s just the best. Guys risking life and limb and players in their early 20s playing with the threat of career-altering injuries, clearly, that’s how hockey was meant to be played.

Seriously though, when is this ridiculousness going to end? When someone’s career ends getting their skate stuck in a rut the size of Grand Canyon?

The NHL’s Winter Classic, in its infancy, was a nice, special event. Outdoor hockey isn’t special anymore. It’s an albatross that’s dragging the sport down with it.

From 2001, when Michigan and Michigan State started this tradition at Spartan Stadium, until 2008, the first rendition of the NHL’s Winter Classic, there were a grand total of four outdoor hockey games, including a three-year break between games.

Four games in seven years.

In just over five years since, there has been 54 games in the United States and Canada alone, including junior, college and pro hockey.

That doesn’t include another 11 already scheduled for 2014, some as soon as this weekend at Fenway Park.

The NHL has gone from one outdoor game to six this season. Six! Just men’s Division I college hockey will have 11 games played outdoors this season.

I know the sport started out on the frozen ponds, but it moved inside for a reason.

You can’t keep calling these outdoor games “special events” when there are literally multiple dozens on a yearly basis.

“Outdoor hockey is where the game started, but there’s way too much of it going on right now,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said after his team’s Frozen Fenway loss to Boston College over the weekend. “They’re ruining it. There’s too much. It’s nice to have this event for Hockey East. It’s great. But there’s way too many outdoor games right now in my opinion.”

The ice at Fenway over the weekend was – get this – too frozen. It was so cold in the Boston area last week that the ice was chipping away as players made turns and dug their blades into the sheet. The intermissions were bumped up to 21 minutes so that the ice crew had some extra time to repair all of the holes and divots.

In an outdoor game last season between Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota at Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the temperatures were so warm, and the ice – or slush – was so bad, it melted through to the paint; the ice looked like a toddler’s finger painting.

Kudos to Nate Leaman and Mark Dennehy for having the foresight to make their Fenway game last weekend non-conference.

I’m sure it’s a special event for the players and it’s certainly a great day for the participating colleges to gather alumni and make an event out of it. But if the price is a player someday tearing every ligament in his leg or shattering an ankle, then count me out.

Off the ice, what’s in it for the fans? The announced attendance at Fenway Park over the weekend was over 31,000. Excuse me while I laugh out loud. More like 17,000.

Still, 17,000 is more than a usual crowd for college hockey. You can’t argue that it puts eyeballs on the sport, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t you think if we stretch this out a little bit, it could actually feel like the special, once-in-a-lifetime event that everyone tells me it is now?

Clearly, and thankfully, thanks to a flooded market, the novelty is starting to wear off.

I’ll be happy if I never see another outdoor hockey game again. If these leagues insist on playing games in baseball stadiums, then I’ll insist on watching them from home. At least that way I can actually see what happens.

Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of this, though.

Counterpoint

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

This isn't really a counterpoint, because I agree with a lot of what Mike said. So I'll be brief. Just wanted to provide some counter-balance.

Injuries are not a big factor, because, far as I know, nothing of the sort has happened yet at any of these games. Certainly it could happen, but it's not a big threat.

It's true the novelty has worn off, but I don't think it's worth getting into a lather over. These events are clearly so special to the people who participate in them, then how can we say not to do it, just because we're tired of them?

And because they're so obviously special to the players, then was it that crazy to suggest there should be more of them? It's not like they're making players do something they really hate to do, just as a marketing gimmick. This isn't the Slap Shot Fashion Show we're talking about here.

Outdoor Games also aren't the first good thing to be overdone and watered down. Grunge, pizza toppings, sports talk radio, adult videos (sorry), boy bands (no, wait, they always sucked).

That doesn't mean it wasn't a good thing in the first place, and or that it doesn't remain, in its essence, a good thing now.

Let's cool it on outdoor games. But let's chill too.

 

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