Well, another year has gone by, and with that so has the holidays! For us Canadian’s that’s back to work, back to the extreme cold, and best of all, back to Hockey! With temperatures now dropping into the consistent negative double digits it’s about time we all started thinking about grabbing the spare stick and skates and heading onto the ponds! Now it’s a bit of a stretch sometimes for us goalies to bring out all of our equipment to play in net (if there even is one!) but I know we still do it from time to time. There’s just something about playing one of our favorite sports outdoors in the crisp winter air, and even the NHL knows it.
During the 2003-2004 season the Edmonton Oilers decided they were going to have a little outdoor fun themselves and decided to host the first “NHL Heritage Classic” on November 22nd, 2003. The event was the most demanded sports event in Edmonton history. This is the more memorable outdoor game for some, not only as it was one of the first watched on modern television, but the game was also played in -19 degrees, some seriously cold temperatures! For us goalies, some might remember Jose Theodore sporting a tuque over-top of his mask, which to me looked hysterical. Hey it’s all for fun though right?
Jose Theodore here kind of started a trend, and that is to respect or show some sign of heritage, not just in the sweaters, but in their own equipment. In the next heritage classic Carey Price would sport an absolutely beautiful and very retro inspired mask that suited the game quite well. However Mikka Kipursoff felt less sportive, and Carey’s mask is as far as it got in terms of throwback equipment.
When it comes to more modern outdoor games the goalies tend to keep the same trends. In the 2010 Winter Classic, our prophet of the goaltending universe (so big) Ilya Bryzgalov sported the very retro all brown leather Vaughn pads. Since then I believe many goalies have brought the retro brown pads back, with it being much more prevalent and essentially a staple for the game, as multiple goalies in the most recent Heritage Classic and Winter Classic wore all brown retro pads.
Speaking of the Winter Classic, the NHL has another outdoor even that is now a tradition, with games played typically on New Years day, known as the Winter Classic. The first game was hosted in Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium. The game was a huge success for the NHL with the highest record attendance at the time, and because of this, they kept the NHL winter classic. The success would continue, as the 2009 Winter classic would bring in the highest American Television rating the NHL had seen in 33 years. All following years would bring in equally successful ratings, and even this years Winter Classic that had just passed, featuring Washington and Chicago was very popular and enjoyable.
That being said, there have been complications with outdoor games on quite a few surprising levels. There are typical issues such as temperature, and snow, but more recently there have been issues with the ice, with how reflective it can be as well as how hard it can be to keep conditions. During Winter Classics it’s well known teams will switch ends half way between periods on occasion, to ensure both teams get the advantage and disadvantage of sun glare, a most problematic issue for goalies. Imagine trying to track the puck and become suddenly blinded by glare! The puck is either in the net or its hit you by the time you can see and react again. The quality of ice is also a known issue for the outdoor games, and makes it extremely hard for goalies to play properly, as it not only effects their skating but their sliding. Many players and goalies complain about the poor ice conditions as the league uses locations not fit to play hockey in. It can be managed, but I personally found the 2013-2014 seasons Stadium series a bit of a stretch. Last season the NHL decided to start a “Stadium Series” game following the success of all other outdoor games. These games were played in Dodgers Stadium (Los Angeles), Yankee Stadium (New York), and Soldiers Field (Chicago). The idea of an outdoor game played in Los Angeles is absolutely crazy, but hey, they did it. Players and coaches alike had many complaints, such as the severe glare from stadium lights, but the most notable of course is the condition of the ice. Surprisingly the worse conditions came from Yankee stadium as Brodeur stated it was “The worse ice I’ve ever played on”. Now Brodeur has been on a lot of ice I’m sure and knows a thing or two on the subject, as well as goaltending. If Martin Brodeur is having issues on the outdoor pad, I could only imagine what it would be like for the average beer leaguer.
Speaking of the Stadium series, some of the worst pads came out of those games, with my least favorite being the Henrik Lundqvist “Yankees Pads”. It should be noted however, that I do not in any way support the New York Yankees.
But that’s enough of my opinions! How do you feel about the outdoor classics’ and series’? Should the NHL stop trying to reach for more outdoor games, and further more should they be for fun only considering all the complications? And for us goalies, let’s hear what you think of the retro pad! I know I’ve almost bought a set for myself on multiple occasions! There’s just something about the old throwbacks that feels right for the outdoor rinks.
Cover Photo by: EJ Hersom/DoD