I made a comment just before the third period ended that Gary Bettman-style perfect ending to this game would be Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winning goal in a shoot-out. Little did I know at the time. I should have bought a lottery ticket then.
What a terrific game this turned out to be. You had Crosby creating the first goal just 21 seconds in to the game, then Brian Campbell answering at the beginning of the second, then the classic shoot-out finish. There was a lot of concern that the elements would hinder the skating and playmaking abilities for both teams, but while the puck and game moved a bit slower than normal, it did not take away from the excitement. The numerous delays to tend to ice issues probably helped keep the game flow from being tough to watch.
-70,000+ hockey fans, mostly standing, were heard the entire game. Great job
-For the amount of work that the NHL's "ice man", Dan Craig, has done in the last two weeks, I think the guy deserves a nice paid vacation to the Bahamas or something.
-The sight of snow coming down in the television camera lense was very visually appealing, much to the delight of NBC producer Sam Flood I can imagine.
-For all the buildup about the weather and how it would affect the players/fans/coaches, there was only one mention of how cold it was. When Bob Costas was interviewing the local Buffalo weatherman, he stated it was about 30 degrees in the beginning of the game, which isn't all that hard to deal with.
-Ronan Tyner, asking all the fans to sing along to "God Bless America". Nice touch.
-The between-period piece on Slap Shot and Ogie Ogalthorpe seemed to not fit with the entire broadcast. I would have liked to seen taped interviews with guys like Georges Laraque and Ty Conklin on their experiences playing in the 2003 Heritage Classic.
-No Gary Bettman sighting?
-I was surprised that the referees did not have any sort of throwback jerseys either to go along with the theme, like they did at the Heritage Classic.
You can be an old curmudgeon and say that this was just a gimmick by the NHL for publicity's sake and that it won't draw in any new fans. Even if today's Winter Classic only brought in one new hockey fan, you can't expect the NHL to sit back and accept it's place in the sports hierarchy. So because they are behind football, baseball, etc., they can't try and lure new fans with something creative? Come on now. I'm sure when the television ratings come back, the game will have a strong rating, nothing spectacular, but a pleasing number for the NHL higher-ups and for NBC.
I'm all for the NHL doing this every year on New Year's Day. This was the league's highest profile event of the season and NBC did a great job in marketing the game. If not every year, every two years or so. It's a great opportunity to promote the game on a grand stage and steal away viewers from college football.
Where should the NHL look to do this next?
Devils-Rangers at Giants Stadium (80,242 capacity)
Maple Leafs-Bruins at BMO Field (30,500 capacity)
Red Wings-Rangers at Ford Field (80,000 capacity)
Those are a few good places to start if indeed we see another outdoor NHL game. Having a staple, outdoor game on New Year's Day every year would be a phenomenal way to get the league a growing mainstream reputation and hopefully catch a few fans as well. Obviously, an outdoor game and an arena game are played at a much different pace, so you cannot expect these type of games to be all about grabbing new fans. It's showcasing the game at it's purest form: outdoors with the elements.