The current season has seemingly been the year of outdoor hockey, as the NHL has staged four outdoor games in the U.S. as part of the Stadium Series, and the last stateside game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks exemplified just why these games have been such a success. The game ultimately ended up as a 5-1 shellacking by the Blackhawks, but the game was truly a spectacle for all watching, both at home and in Soldier Field, and should have the league salivating over the prospect of future outdoor games.
From the start of the national anthem to the final whistle, the home fans at Soldier Field were as loud as can be, and they certainly had reason to cheer on the night. Star forward and captain Jonathan Toews led the way for the Blackhawks with two goals, one assist and seven shots on goal, and the rest of his teammates followed lead. Chicago was clearly the more prepared team on the night, as they were clearly encouraged by head coach Joel Quenneville to dump pucks into the offensive zone and to take on the Penguins head on. Their fans took note, starting out with the normal tactic of screaming along with the national anthem, and finished out the night at a noise level that would make Seattle Seahawks fans proud.
And while the overall domination of the night provided reason to be joyous on the night, fans would have had reason to cheer even if two anonymous teams were skating at Soldier Field, which is part of what has made the Stadium Series so enjoyable to watch. Specifically on this night the sight of persistent snow from start to finish set a sight that looked more like two pickup teams playing pond hockey in a rural town than two professional sides playing in front of 62,921 rabid fans. That face that fans were greeted to musical acts during the intermissions and general hilarity in the stands only made the event better.
While the heavy snow hurt play in the sense of players not being able to handle the puck as efficiently as they normally do, it also made for a more authentic feel than is usually felt in any other sporting event. It would be the equivalent of watching a basketball game played out on Rucker Park in New York City or MLB teams playing with wiffle ball bats, which is to say that it is a once in a lifetime experience.
But the best thing about the situation is that it doesn’t have to be a once in a lifetime situation for hockey fans, and in fact, outdoor games should continue to come in droves. Fans at Soldier Field, Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium can attest to the genuine childlike joy that comes with going to an outdoor hockey game, and the NHL certainly loves the incredible television ratings and merchandise revenue that they receive as a result. Simply put, outdoor hockey is a win-win for everyone involved, and the league should continue on with an annual slate two to four Stadium Series games heading into the future.