Typical. With all the troubles the National Hockey League has had marketing itself south of the 49th parallel, the one beacon of hope on the calendar was the Winter Classic. The annual outdoor game began four years ago in Buffalo as a novelty that for whatever reason caught on with the ordinarily apathetic American sports audience. (The first regular season outdoor game actually took place in the biting cold of Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, but that was between two Canadian teams, so there was less reason for Americans to pay attention.)
The Winter Classic’s second go-round in Chicago attracted the largest television ratings for a hockey game in 33 freaking years. Not being complete idjits, the League decided this was a pony worth riding hard, so they began using the event as a showcase for its fledgling star system. This year’s game, scheduled for New Year’s Day at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals, features a matchup between two marquee players, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. What could possibly go wrong?
Would you believe melting ice and rain? Yep. Weather forecasters are predicting a 70-80% chance that game time temperature will reach 10° Celsius (50° Fahrenheit for you Yanks – either way, seriously above the point that water freezes) and at least a half-inch of rain. Contingency plans are being floated that would see the game postponed from 1pm EST to as late as 8pm Saturday night, or even to noon on Sunday. This would put the game in direct conflict with the final week of NFL action.
For the record, that sound you just heard was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sobbing like a little girl.