When Tyler Bozak rifled a shot by Jimmy Howard to give the Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings, there was not a fan at the Big House who could have resisted the urge to flash a smile. After all, they had just watched an action packed game between two teams that are competing for a playoff spot, and done so amongst 105,590 others at the 2014 Winter Classic.
But aside from just being able to watch a great hockey game in one of the the greatest sporting arenas in the world, fans both at the Big House and around the world were blessed to be around the greatest sporting event today. Because while any inter-division game is very valuable when it comes to position in the standings, there is something special about the Winter Classic that makes it feel like more than just a single game.
Whether it be the idea of watching outdoor hockey on a professional level after most fans grew up playing either street or ice hockey–or in some cases both–the allure of outdoor hockey is obvious. For fans of other sports the idea is the equivalent of MLB being played in a cornfield in Iowa or an NBA game in Rucker Park. The mix of jealousy and admiration for the scenery is almost palpable for fans, players and media personnel alike, especially when the games are indulged with constant snow flurries and played at iconic sporting venues like the 2014 Winter Classic was.
Additionally, what makes the game a sight to see is the way that the NHL puts on a show for everyone involved in the arena. From the little kids playing hockey right next to the main ice sheet to the multiple bands–Zac Brown Band, Mayor Hawthorne and The Tenors were at the game in Michigan– playing songs before the game, and during intermissions and everything in between, the fun does not end on the ice at the Winter Classic. Off ice attractions are hugely important today, and in this case Gary Bettman and company succeed in making sure this event is one everybody can enjoy.
There will surely be some people who feel that the Winter Classic is in the process of being watered down–seven outdoor games in 2014 alone will stoke those flames further–but I wholeheartedly disagree with this thought process. This is because the event is more than just a game, but an experience for fans, players and the media alike that brings you back to childhood days in the backyard and plays them out on the biggest stage. To take that away would be a slap in the face to all involved.