With all the talk about the 2013 Redwings/Maple Leafs Winter Classic likely being scrapped, I felt it would be appropriate to keep moving forward and look to the future. A future where owners and players get along and fans get to once again enjoy the best hockey league in the world. So, without further ado, let’s take a glimpse down the road to two or three years from now.
Ever since the inception of the Winter Classic, Minnesota Wild fans have been drooling at the thought of holding one. After all, Minnesota is the “State of Hockey”. However, until recently, Minnesota has never had the “pizazz”, if you will, to attract the attention of the average casual sports fan (or so the NHL thinks).
Hello, “pizazz”! Suddenly, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher signs the two biggest free agents available during the offseason and the best prospect pool in the NHL is chomping at the bit to prove itself. Minnesota is now being called the Miami Heat of the NHL—a bit of a stretch, but I can at least understand the idea behind it. Either way you look at it, the Wild is about to burst onto the NHL scene in a big way. Below you will find a few reasons why Minnesota deserves to host a Winter Classic.
Reason number one: scenery. Everyone loves an outdoor hockey game on a nice, snowy winter day. Baring global warming, Minnesota weather will guarantee a great day for hockey.
Reason number two: location. There is no better place in the Twin Cities to host an outdoor hockey game than Target Field. From the outside, Target looks like a ball field crammed into a city block. However, on the inside, the home of the MLB’s Minnesota Twins is quite spacious and has a historic feel that will contribute much to the atmosphere of the Winter Classic. There is also not a bad seat in the place and would give hockey fans an intimate view of the action down on the ice.
Reason number three: timing. In order for a Winter Classic involving Minnesota to work, the Wild need to have at least made the playoffs the year before to have garnered some interest. The success of the newly acquired Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, along with the progress of Minnesota’s youth movement, will definitely contribute to this. Minnesota can’t be the team going through growing pains; Minnesota needs to be the team that has arrived.
Reason number four: passion! Most Minnesotans—and Wild fans—live and breathe hockey; it’s in their blood. Only an idiot (cough, Norm Green, cough) can lose money on hockey in Minnesota and it was a travesty in the minds of Minnesota fans to watch their beloved North Stars leave town. However, there was a light at the end of the dark, pro-hockey-less tunnel that saw the NHL grant the citizens of the State of Hockey an expansion franchise—the Minnesota Wild.
How sweet it was for Manny Fernandez and Co to not only beat the Stars in their first home game against Dallas, but to shut them out in a 6-0 blowout, as well. Others may go into a long debate about which team is the archrival of Minnesota. They’ll tell you it’s the Vancouver Canucks (Todd Bertuzzi fan taunting back in ‘03, the Mattias Ohlund stick whack to Koivu’s leg in ‘07, the late Rick Rypien fan charging incident in ’10 etc…) or the Colorado Avalanche and some even argue it’s the newly re-incarnated Winnipeg Jets (the Pierre-Marc Bouchard check into the boards). They’re not; they pale in comparison to the real rival of the Wild.
The archrival of the Minnesota Wild is and always has been the Dallas Stars, hands down. Whether it’s in the way the Stars have dominated the Wild in recent years, or just in the eyes of the fans, the success of the Wild will always be compared to that of the “old team”. Sure, the victory over Dallas in the final game of the ’10-’11 season cost the Wild the chance at drafting defensive stud Dougie Hamilton—but, boy, was it sweet!
Picture a snowy, picture-perfect Winter Classic at Target Field with the Wild wearing brand new retro-looking jerseys and the Stars wearing classic North Stars jerseys. Yes, the team is no longer the North Stars, but what Minnesota fan wouldn’t love to see their beloved North Stars play one last game at home? A Dallas/Minnesota Winter Classic brings passion, competitiveness, atmosphere, nostalgia and history into a game that people can enjoy no matter what the outcome is. Best of all, the casual fan will take notice and it’s the perfect event for the NHL to use to restore good will between fans, players and owners.
The only problem with any Minnesota Winter Classic is that the alumni talent looks fairly weak in comparison to about 27 other NHL teams. Who do you pair against Modano, Broten, Reid, Beaupre, Ciccarelli, McRae and possibly Hull (along with numerous others)? Well, let’s see…you’ve got Bombardir, Hendrickson, Walz, McLennan, Dowd, Fernandez and maybe Roloson, Brunette, Rolston, Madden and Nolan. Not very many names on that Wild alumni roster stand out to the casual hockey fan. Heck, maybe Paul Deutsch will start in net; at over 50 years of age, he won’t look out of place!
The bottom line is this: Minnesota is too good of a market to not host a Winter Classic. Even Gary Bettman has admitted as much. The last step for the Wild to make to prove this to the NHL is to let their game speak for itself. Minnesota has the much-needed tools to make a significant impact in the NHL (when and if the season ever gets underway) and a deep playoff run is sure to turn some heads. Wild fans can rest assured, their day will come and, when it does, it’ll be a great day for hockey.