Picture it: it’s New Year’s Day, snowing outside, and you’re lazing around on your couch either bored cause of the holiday or nursing your head from excess champagne the night before. Lucky for you, not only is hockey gracing your television, it’s the way hockey should be played: outdoors. The NHL must’ve made some serious bank, cause this year we get SIX games played the way it was intended: outdoors (Canadian influence) and on a rink atop a baseball or football field (American influence). Let’s break them down.
This game gets the official Winter Classic billing, as it will be played on New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor. The game features division rivals who are pretty close in the standings playing at the University of Michigan. Since this is the Winter Classic, it gets the fan-favorite 24/7 series on HBO, which started last night, and really who doesn’t love watching almost strictly for the goalies? It’s always fun to watch two Original Six teams play each other, as they’re no stranger to each other; they’ve met seven times in the Cup Finals, with the Leafs dominating with six series wins. Maybe Clarkson will stop taking silly suspensions by then, but we can never be too sure. Either way, these two teams are a solid matchup and should make for an entertaining start to 2014.
I’m most looking forward to…: Steve Yzerman, my all time sports crush, participating in the alumni game on New Year’s Eve. My heart skipped a beat when I read this.
Game 2: Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings, January 25, 2014 @ 9:30pm
So I’m geeked for this one, mainly cause I’m like a little kid when it comes to West Coast hockey. Being raised on a steady diet of Atlantic and Northeast Division (RIP) hockey, watching games from west of the Mississippi is like driving a sports car after learning on a mid-size sedan. It’s not that you don’t love your Accord, it’s just a lot of fun to take the A6 out sometimes…. Anyway, this is what New York’s MLB Subway Series wants to be: a nearly inter-city rivalry with some meaning. The two play for the same division, and the two play a similar style of hockey; offensive-minded, with LA being a little more conservative and playing a little bit better defense. LA currently trails Anaheim by one point for the lead in the Pacific division and, although this may not matter in 6 weeks’ time, both teams are red hot right now. Hockey played outdoors in the desert- just the way it was meant to be.
I’m most looking forward to….: well, two things: one, Teemu Selanne, and two, if Jonathan Quick will be healthy to start.
Game 3: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers, January 26, 2014 @ 12:30pm
The first of two in a week for the Rangers, the Devils will travel to Yankee Stadium in an attempt to continue upsetting Ranger fans at home (well, “home” I suppose) this season. Although getting two points is always the goal of a game, it seems when these two teams play each other, they’re much more interested in ensuring the opposing team gets zero points, hopefully in an embarrassing fashion. This rivalry dates back roughly since the beginning of time, but more accurately to 1992 with peak years being the ECF in 1994 (see: here and here) and 2012 when Henrique & the Devils eliminated the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers’ hopes of winning a Cup in the ECF. With a postseason record favoring the Rangers 4-2, it always feels like the Devils who are trying to prove their worth, but that could just be a homer opinion.
I’m most looking forward to…: this game getting dirty, especially if Marty starts. Ahh, memories.
Game 4: New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers, January 29, 2014 @ 7pm
Getting the most out of the rink to be built at the fairly new Yankee Stadium, the Isles make the long trip to the Bronx to play their LIRR rival Rangers. One could make the argument that the Rangers will have a slight advantage, having played on this rink just a few days prior, however this game will be at night under the lights. The Islanders are playing some pretty terrible hockey recently, serving as a confidence booster for just about any team that comes in to play them. They typically get fired up for games against the Rangers only to lose in the last period. This rivalry doesn’t feel as heated as the Devils, mainly since the teams haven’t faced each other in the playoffs since the Rangers swept them in the ECQF in ’94, but for anyone who’s ever been to the Garden knows, there should be a healthy amount of “Potvin Sucks” chants on this fine upcoming January evening. The crowd should be interesting, since Rangers fans usually take over the Coliseum for “away” games, but for such an event I expect some Islander fans to trek out and make their presence known.
I’m most looking forward to…: going (hooray)!! Depending on where both of these teams are in 6 weeks’ time, I’m looking for one (or both) to get a spark from this matchup.
Game 5: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks, March 1, 2014 @ 8pm
Fresh from the Olympics, we’re treated to one heck of a game in early March as these two consistent contenders face off in Chicago. Soldier Field, he oldest NFL stadium and longtime home of daaa Bears, takes on hockey for what should be a really good game. Simply put, these teams are both very good at what they do. The Hawks are making a run for yet another Presidents’ Trophy this year, leading the NHL in points and showing very few flaws overall. The Penguins always compete and, much as I hate to admit it, Crosby has proven that he shows up on a big stage. This game gets primetime billing on NBC, which is absolutely huge news for the US hockey-loving market. There is no rivalry between these two, but it makes a lot of sense why they were chosen for the largest televised market; Bettman loves the Pens and the Hawks are the best in the business for nearly a season and a half now. If you love hockey, you’ll be glued to this one.
I’m most looking forward to…: how crazy this crowd will be. The game sold out in less than 24 hours, meaning there will be just over 60.000 very cold and very passionate fans in attendance.
Game 6: Ottawa Senators vs. Vancouver Canucks, March 2, 2014 @ 4pm
The final in the Stadium Series, the “Heritage Game” pays homage to very, very old school hockey dating back what will be 100 years. Prior to the NHL’s inception, the Stanley Cup was appointed by Lord Stanley himself to the best team amongst a series of professional leagues first in Canada, then beginning 1915 expanding “worldwide” to include the Portland-based Rosebuds. So, what does this have to do with the game in March, you may ask. In 1915, the Vancouver Millionaires (what a fun name, by the way) swept the Ottawa Senators in the first interleague Stanley Cup series. They weren’t messing around when they called it a heritage game, eh? This game should be a fun one to watch, though – Canadian games are always fun – and it should have some playoff implication for at least the Canucks. Vancouver isn’t the greatest under pressure and the Senators haven’t been playing the best hockey this season, so by all means this game is up for grabs. It also will feature Kassian vs. Kassian… maybe.
I’m most looking forward to…: three words: John Tortorella presser.
A quick update from around the league:
- Steven Stamkos skated yesterday with the Lightning, only four weeks after breaking his tibia, proving that we (humans) are not worthy.
- The Flames booted their GM, leaving Brian Burke as their interim manager for ‘a short time.’ Hopefully that hair only stays for a short time too.
- Tons of suspensions passed down this week: Shawn Thornton (15 games for assault on Brooks Orpik), Dion Phaneuf (served 2 games for boarding Kevin Miller), Senators’ D Jared Cowen (2 games for boarding Sabres’ Zemgus Girgensons), Leafs’ winger David Clarkson (2 games for an illegal check to Blues’ F Vladimir Sobotka) and Lightning F Richard Panik (2 games for boarding Caps’ D Karl Alzner).
So, which of these games are you most looking forward to and why?