Last Sunday, instead of posting about happenings around the NHL, I was out on the field doing first hand work for a post. I shuffled up on the 4 train to Yankee Stadium not to watch the boys in pinstripes bat around and eat some delicious garlic fries, but instead, in the dead of winter, to watch some good old-fashioned pond hockey. Pond hockey on a baseball field, in front of 50,000 people. Big pond, eh?
The experience, from beginning to end, was absolutely incredible. Having not been lucky enough to experience the Winter Classic in 2012 in Philadelphia, I had no idea what to expect going in. Days of stalking the weather report didn’t do much justice – 5 degrees here or there means nothing when you’re debating 3 or 4 layers of leggings – especially when you’ve got to factor in adrenaline based on the amount of Henrique jerseys in the vicinity. Needless to say, the morning was filled with nervous excitement.
I guess any seasoned veteran or kid who played outdoor hockey in colder weather would know how to dress, but the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the extreme opposite ends of the wardrobe spectrum. From people in fur coats to people in just a jersey over a hoodie with no hats/gloves/feeling in any of their extremities, you had it all. An obnoxious amount of red surrounded me and we had to seek solace in the Jim Beam Suite, where delightful hot chocolate and heat would be served.
The Bronx did us a favor by opening nearby bars at 9am, allowing people to have a good liquor base of warmth before entering the 22°, wind whipping field. After a delay of game due to “sun glare” (though I mean, who could blame the NHL for that? Not like the sun’s been coming up consistently for thousands of years..) we took our seats and watched the main event. NHL on NBC Sports, take notes, Rangers v. Devils is a rivalry.
Though the beginning of the game was pretty iffy, with slow ice and a terrible play by Hank leaving the net cause he wanted to give Rangers fans a collective heartattack, when you took a second to look around at the crowd, it was so incredible. If you’ve been even a semi-aware NHL fan with a scope outside of New York lately, you know about the Tortorella meltdown of a week and a half ago. You probably also know that Peter Gammons, legendary baseball columnist and ESPN’s messiah, commented that the Torts incident is a prime example of why “the NHL is a minor sport.” Sure didn’t feel minor when you’d look around to see over 50,000 frozen faces passionately cheering on their respective side of the Hudson. Hard to defend against a league that makes a ton more in revenue each season, but it isn’t hard to see the passion on the faces of fans not noticing the elements outside.
Aside from the awesome and random second period snowfall, the beautiful skies during the third and, oh, the absolute smashing of MARTY and a beauty of a penalty shot by Stepan, it was a pretty typical game. You had your drunk cranky Rangers fans (one in particular kept asking AV to “put the kid in” cause Henrik is “too busy fixing his hair”), your drunk Devils fans (fights fights fights), and your gritty and gorgeous physical play that makes rivalries – real rivalries – so special. The atmosphere of being outdoors to watch a game makes it seem like so much more than a regular season game… almost like a baseball playoff game. More laid back than you’d expect from hockey, yes. But also more intense than a regular game at the Garden or Rock.
If you have a chance to get a ticket for the game tonight, do it. You won’t regret it. Grab some compression gear, grab every pair of long johns and flannels and thermal tees you can find. Get those hoodies and jerseys and leggings and ski pants on and don’t forget your scarves. Getting out there tonight is worth it cause you’ll feel your toes after an hour or so of being home, but you won’t forget the memories you have of it for years. I know I won’t.