Winter Classic was a must see; Yankee Stadium next?
Going back to the old six-team league, I am a hockey nut of the worst order. As I told my good friend and colleague Ian Browne today via Twitter as the Winter Classic played itself out at Fenway Park: Give me a hockey game and baseball game every day. Sprinkle in a few Bruce concerts. I’ll even take U2. Then I’m a happy man. He agreed on all accounts.
The Flyers-Bruins tilt ended much like a Stanley Cup finals clinching game — the wave of energy in the old ballpark reaching its crescendo just as the Bruins hit their apex, old-timer Mark Recchi scoring with two minutes left in regulation and Marco Strum scoring less than two minutes into overtime for the 2-1 win. Both teams then lined up on the frozen outdoor pond to shake hands — a playoff series-ending custom that I’ve always thought was one of the best in all of sports.
I’ve covered or attended games in 11 Stanley Cup finals, including my Rangers win over the Canucks in 1994. I’ve seen four of them end on overtime goals. With apologies to baseball, there is no more pathos than a championship series that ends on that kind of note. Baseball has its walk-off wins, but that’s only reserved for the home team once a game reaches the bottom of the ninth.
In the hockey postseason, two teams play until one team gives and I’ve seen games that have gone on for three or four 20-minute overtime sessions. Every shot, pass and hit puts fans on the edge. The hockey playoffs goes four grueling best-of-seven rounds. You watch the players’ faces. See the bruises, grim looks and determination as one game runs into another. There really is nothing like it.
I’m not the only one who believes this. I’m not the only baseball guy who loves pucks. There are also numerous hockey guys who love baseball. I’ve had long chats about ball with Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and the Great One, Wayne Gretzsky, among others. I’ve had long chats about hockey with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and the great now retired left-hander Tom Glavine, who played the game. Sciosicia grew up outside of Philly as a Flyers fan. Fancy that.
The marriage of iconic baseball parks with the Winter Classic the last two years has brought out the best of what both sports have to offer: Like baseball, hockey relies on its history. Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford throwing out the first pitch of the World Series is mirrored by Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke facing off on Friday as the ceremonial first puck was dropped.
It’s great winter offseason publicity for baseball and has given hockey a wonderful national shot in the arm. Next year I’m thinking Rangers-Islanders at Yankee Stadium with 50,000 fans chanting “Potvin Sucks” as the locals still do quizzically at every game played at Madison Square Garden. That would be something to behold.
In the meantime, I’ll be out in Glendale on Saturday to see the resurgent Coyotes play the Red Wings. It’s my sixth game at the very poorly named Jobing.com Arena this season.
Told you. I’m a hockey nut!