Weekend Gabber

Welcome to the weekend! Here are a few talkers from off the ice that caught my eye from the interwebs.

More Winter Classic Speculation
Earlier in the week Russo held a live chat over on the Strib website. The one thing that caught my eye was that he answered a question about the Winter Classic. He stated that when we get it, it will be 2012 or later, and that it will be at TCF Bank Stadium. Obviously nothing is etched in stone here, but Russo is as inside as inside gets. This disappoints me a little. I really think Target Field is the sexier pick, as you can read here in an earlier post. Hopefully there’s still some fluctuation in the final details.

NHL Network Still Needs Work
I love the NHL Network for the most part. You get live games from time to time, great NHL feature shows, coverage of special events like the Winter Classic, World Juniors, presumably the Olympics. But the one problem I have with the network is that possibly it’s most valuable asset, NHL on the Fly, is unwatchable if you have an HD television. NHL on the Fly fills a void in the US left by NHL 2Night back in the ESPN days. It’s the only place you can get nightly NHL highlights. And so much of the other stuff on the network is in HD, they redid the studio, and still, no HD.

So I tweeted Kevin Weeks (@KevinWeekes if you’re so inclined), who is one of the personalities on On the Fly. I asked him if On the Fly is ever going to be in HD and his response was “We’re pushing for it,hopefully next season (fingers crossed),it will make a huge difference for the viewer for sure !!”

Part of me says that next season is ridiculous when every other studio highlight show on MLB and NFL Networks, plus the ESPNs are HD, but alas I digress, and hope next season brings them up to par.

Upgrades at the X
It feels somewhat dirty to think about upgrades being needed at Xcel Energy Center. The X has been the NHL’s best building for the last couple years according to Sports Illustrated, and it’s been a big reason why the Wild have sold out every game in its 9-year history. It’s a fabulous building. But with TCF Bank Stadium and Target Field opening, apparently some things may need to be done to keep it on par with the new digs, and something that can be done is a new video board in the main scoreboard. More an upgrade in technology than anything I’d assume, HD and all that.

Wild owner Craig Leipold remarked in his most-recent blog that it’s something they are working towards. Obviously it would be a pretty big expense, and they need to work towards fitting it into the budget.

Before We Go
I’ll leave you with some good humor from the guys over at Hockey Wilderness. Go check it out, and laugh at our former #10.

Gaborik Makes it too Easy

Happy Saturday!

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Pontificating on Minnesota’s Winter Classic

New year’s day was the NHL Winter Classic in Boston’s Fenway Park. Hockey in an outdoor baseball stadium. It was the NHL’s 3rd New Year’s Day outdoor hockey game, and 4th outdoor game overall. At one time I thought every year would be too much, but it has proven to be one of the most exciting days of the year in the NHL. I’d much rather watch this game than a nondescript college football bowl game. It has truly carved out a niche in New Year’s Day tradition. This year’s game was again full of spectacle, history, and really turned out to be an exciting game. Just another great event.

Each year I get to thinking about the event in Minnesota, and how much fun it would be to go to that game. Now that the Gophers new football stadium TCF Bank Stadium is open and the Twins new ballpark Target Field is less than 100 days away from opening, we finally have 2 great venues that could host the game. The latest I have read is that the Wild is pitching TCF Bank Stadium to the NHL. Not much is known about that proposal and I have to believe that the Wild would be interested in holding the event at Target Field as well. Assuming that the Wild get the Winter Classic in the next couple years, and assuming that both the U of MN and the Twins are interesting in hosting the event in their respective buildings, here’s a breakdown of how I see where the game should be played…

Sightlines
In all of these outdoor games, the sightlines for hockey definitely seem to be of secondary importance. Of the 4 outdoor games, 2 of them have been in football stadiums, 2 in baseball stadiums. If the game were at Target Field, seats would be great behind home plate because the rink is laid out from 1st base to 3rd base, but in the outfield not so much. It would seem that a football stadium, being of rectangular or oval uniformity, would lend itself better to being able to see the action on a hockey rink.
Advantage: TCF Bank

Theme
The Wild have spoke of this event to include college and possibly high school games as well. Makes sense, because this year Boston College and Boston University will be playing at Fenway (Friday Jan 8th 6:30PM NHL Network). Obviously Minnesota’s event would include the University of Minnesota Gophers, probably both Men’s and Women’s teams. That being said, it would make sense to have the Winter Classic at TCF Bank, because it’s on the U of MN campus and they could continue the college vibe. The NHL could focus it’s tradition theme on college players in the NHL. And maybe it could be some sort of MN college showcase. Bring in MN Duluth, MSU Mankato, St. Cloud State, and Bemidji State to join with the Gophers and you’ve got a tremendous event. Actually, the more I think about that the more I like it. Hope Wild PR Guy Billy Robertson reads this!
Advantage: TCF Bank

Secondary Money
This one is the most controversial, because it is about alcohol. Current policies at TCF Bank Stadium do not allow alcohol to be sold anywhere in the building. It’s a weird state legislature thing where the U of MN wanted to sell it only in the club areas, the state got involved and said either everywhere or nowhere, and the U went with nowhere to avoid sending a bad message about college kids drinking. It’s noble, but it also comes at a price. Revenue. When a glass of beer is $7 you’re giving up quite a bit of potential profits when you decide not to offer it in a stadium. Profits of which the NHL would get a piece. Do you think they’d want to give it up?

Across town at Target Field, there’s plenty to go around. Budweiser is a major sponsor, there are I think 4 different bars/restaurants, there are specialized concession stands dedicated to beers from the state of Minnesota, and then there’s the Budweiser Rooftop Party Deck, complete with a gas firepit . Add to this the fact that NHL fans enjoy a beer or two as part of the experience, and that a little libation may help to keep the body warm at an outdoor hockey game.

Many may not believe this is something that should matter, but I think it will be the deciding factor in where the game is played.
Advantage: Target Field 

Me?
My personal opinion here. Sightlines are secondary in this event. It’s about the pomp and circumstance, the vibe, and just the awesomeness of an outdoor game. The beer thing plays into the party vibe. I’m not a Gopher hockey fan, but I am a huge Twins fan, so I guess Target Field wins my bid. For the history perspective the NHL is looking for, the teams should be Wild v. Dallas Stars. The college game(s) should include UMD at the very least, and preferably all the D1 teams in MN since I just thought of that great idea.

So how bout it Commissioner Bettman? Who’s next?

What do you all think about Minnesota’s Winter Classic? Post in the comments!

New Year's Hockey Summary

Lots of fun hockey stuff to talk about from the New Year’s holiday. Let’s break it down, game summary-style.

1st Period – New Year’s Eve – Sharks @ Wild
I wasn’t able to watch this game. Not that I made an effort. We went to a friend’s house for the NYE so I was busy with various pre-party preparations. I did tune in Bob Kurtz a couple times in the car tho. While on our way to the party the Wild were up 2-1 and holding on for dear life. I have to give mad props to the crowd at the X Wednesday nite. With the Wizzy in free fall, sitting in last place in the Northwest division, the crowd came across super loud over the WCCO airwaves. I know a couple people that were there, so I give a shout out to them.

Unfortunately the Sharks tied the game with around 29 seconds left, but Brent Burns won the game for the Wild in OT. Great win over the Sharks who are virtually unbeatable this season. Could this game can be the harbinger for turning the season around? Goodness let’s hope so.

2nd Period – New Year’s Day – USA v. Canada
This 3rd game for each country in the World Junior Championships was actually played New Year’s Eve, but due to the party I watched it early New Year’s Day, with Baby Girl. If you had a chance to catch any of this game, what an atmosphere. This year’s WJC is being played in Ottawa, so naturally it is a very Canadian crowd. The fans were passing a huge Canadian flag all around the concourse, they were loud, and it was a fun game to watch. USA jumped out to a surprising 3-0 lead, but by the end of the 1st period it was tied. Ultimately Canada won the game 7-4, but they scored 2 empty net goals. The final score makes sense because earlier in the tournament Canada beat Kazakhstan 15-0, while the US was 3 goals off, beating the Kazakhstanis 12-0. Canada is the more-talented team, but if they meet again, USA could have a chance for an upset.

The US takes on Slovakia in the quarterfinals Friday at 2:30 CST. You can catch the game on the NHL Network.

3rd Period – New Year’s Day – NHL Winter Classic
This one was the main event of the holiday. The most hype as well as my most-anticipated. Add on fry bread and uff-da tacos and it was a great event in our house. Most of you know this, but this year’s Winter Classic was played in Chicago at Wrigley Field. The Detroit Red Wings beat the Blackhawks 6-4. For me the result wasn’t too big a deal; it was about the spectacle of a hockey game in a baseball stadium…in historic Wrigley Field. The aerial views were excellent. The fans were into it and loud, starting with the National Anthem. And it was a good game to boot.

However, I do have to say that the uniqueness of this event was lost on me a little bit. This was the 3rd outdoor game the NHL has put on, and this one was too soon. I know it is all about marketing the NHL and capitalizing on momentum, but I hope they take a year or two off before the next one. It will undoubtedly be in the Twin Cites eventually, but I hope it doesn’t happen for a while, so the event still seems like an event.

Overtime – Marian Gaborik
After the hockey New Year’s had wound down, a story appeared in my RSS reader from Michael Russo. No biggie I thought, because he is quite the blogger to go along with his Strib writing for the paper. But as I read on, it was not good news at all. It appears the Wild and Marian Gaborik are contemplating the possibility of surgery to repair a “deficiency” in his hip, which has been causing his groin problems this year. This surgery would likely be season ending. Now, this is not bad news because Gabby is a important cog on this team. Unfortunately that’s not his status anymore. But it is bad news because this team that can not score is losing the one guy that is dynamic enough to score, and now he is not tradable. We are looking at seeing the most talented player in Wild history leave the team at the end of the year and getting nothing in return. Quite the disastrous turn of events.

The Wild are back in action Saturday v. Detroit. Could be ugly for the Wizzy, but maybe this is the point in the season where it turns around.

Hey…New Years is a time for optimism afterall.

Frybread Hockey

We have a tradition in our family (actually I joined the tradition when I got married) of having frybread on New Years Day. It has become one of my favorite days. Usually we’ll have frybread and watch meaningless college bowl games that my wife tires of after about 10 minutes. This year it was frybread and hockey watching the Winter Classic.

While I can’t say it was a family afternoon of bonding, I truly enjoyed watching the outdoor game in Buffalo while my wife and her mom were busy taking down Christmas decorations. It was snowing at the beginning of the game, sleeting midway, and snowing again at the end. There was snow on the ice, wind in the player’s faces, and weather reports throughout the broadcast. It made for a surreal afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect. Even having to watch the Penguins like every other nationally-televised game was not annoying, as they appeared as a different team in baby blue jerseys. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Darren Pang and Mike Emmerick, toques, and a shootout with Sidney Crosby winning it on a pretty snow-plow deke. The fans in Buffalo were absolutely awesome, and I realized that even though we in Minnesota like to pride ourselves on the outside hockey experience, we could never pull off putting 75,000 outside to watch an NHL hockey game in 25 degree weather and snow. Metrodome has made us soft.

I can only hope that the NHL was able to pick up a few fringe viewers they so desperately need – the channel surfers that might just get attracted to the game when they see hockey in the snow. The one drawback was the long stoppages to clean the ice and many viewers just may have checked out and gone back to football. I only hope they came back to share in at part of my New Years Day bliss.

Trust me on the frybread.

Hockey Programming Note

Just a friendly reminder that Monday’s Wild game v. San Jose is one of the 10 games scheduled for high-definition broadcast on FSN-HD. So, if you have access, make sure you watch the HD broadcast.

Also, take a break from watching the bowls on New Years Day to watch the NHL Winter Classic on NBC at 12PM CST. The Penguins are playing the Sabres outdoors at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the NFL’s Buffalo Bills play. The NHL did this a few years ago in Edmonton and it was really a cool event. It also kicks off NBC’s NHL coverage for the year, which I am excited for. They do a great job covering the game, and they’re all in HD.