Outdoor Games Still Beloved by Participants
The list of people who speak negatively about outdoor games is growing by the year. They were cool at first, says the conventional wisdom, but they are passe now. Furthermore, you can't play important games like World Juniors, in an outdoor setting. It's ruins the integrity of the tournament. That's what "they" say.
But if you talk to players and coaches, the feelings about outdoor games continue to be nothing but positive.
College hockey basically started the trend in the 2000s, and the NHL eventually picked up on it. The NHL now has its annual New Year's Day Winter Classic, and a smattering of other games per year, played outside. For college hockey, the trend picked up steam, but appears to have tapered off. This year, the World Juniors, being played in Buffalo, got into it for the first time.
The game was certainly played in stressful conditions. The U.S. and Canada, in what's become a heated rivalry, played in front of nearly 50,000 fans in what was near-whiteout conditions for much of the second period and early third. There were frequent stoppages to clear snow off the playing surface, which made the game last almost 3 1/2 hours. The U.S. rallied from down 3-1, and then won the game in a shootout.
"The snow, the crowd was great," said Team USA/St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. "Even when we were down, I turned to one of my assistants, I said it's too bad. There's hardly any plays being made, it was going to be tough to come back because of the ice conditions. It's a game you don't want to chase. And I said it's too bad because this is an unbelievable setting right now with the snow and how it played out. But we found a way to get back.
"I thought it was great for hockey. You take out the importance of the game for the World Junior tournament, and I was shaking hands with (Team Canada coach Dominique Ducharme) and I said, 'too bad it wasn't an exhibition game and had that meaning, because supporting the sport in our country, that played out great.' I was a skeptic at first, I love it now."
It's easy, of course, for the winning team coach to say he loved it. But Ducharme, who played college hockey at Vermont, was also OK with it, if not disappointed by the outcome.
"It was a great experience for sure. Different game, but yeah, it was a great experience," Ducharme said.
Other members of Team Canada were also more measured in their praise, having just come off the disappointment of the loss. But there were good words nonetheless.
"There's lots of ruts, and you can fall down at any time, so you have to be sturdy on your feet," BU defenseman Dante Fabbro said. "It was definitely tough to make passes and plays. You definitely lose the puck in the snow and couldn't find where it was. But it was like that for both teams. ... Small breakdowns, a lot of it was just guys overskating pucks in the snow. It was tough, but it was a cool time."
Said Massachusetts' Cale Makar, "It was a little different, having snow and not being able to see the puck at times. But we just stressed a lot of simple plays, whether it's chip and chase or the simple things."
The U.S., of course, was also trying to make simple plays, which made its comeback more difficult. Not coincidentally, the comeback started once the snow had subsided, around five minutes into the third period.
But the snow stoppages continued, which also seemed to help Team USA because it was able to roll out the line of Casey Mittelstadt, Brady Tkachuk and Kailer Yamomoto just about every other shift.
"It can put a pause on momentum, which can be a good or bad thing. It definitely helped to get the ice clean," Minnesota-Duluth's Joey Anderson said about the stoppages. "They'd get it clean and before they could even finish, there'd be snow on it again."
Anderson is a captain for Team USA.
"It was a really neat experience for us to go through," he said. "We didn't know what to expect and that was probably as good as it (can) be.
"The whole bench is looking up and around and taking it all in. The crowd was awesome and huge and we were trying to take it in as much as we could."
Said Tkachuk, "I thought the ice was really good. And it just made it better with the snow coming down and the fans, and the excitment, you can really feel it. USA Hockey put a great event together, and it's an experience I'll never forget."
Outdoor games are here to stay, so long as the participants enjoy them and people pay to see them. Curmudgeons be damned. If you don't like it, you can always change the channel.