NHL Winter Classic Diary: Wrigley at Night
With the 2009 NHL Winter Classic only a day away, Wednesday was a busy day at Wrigley Field. Both the Blackhawks and the Red Wings took to the ice for pre-game practices, with the players looking a little more like wide-eyed kids than hardened professionals -- if only for a few hours. Bottom line: both teams are incredibly jazzed to be here to be a part of something hockey fans are going to remember for years to come.
But as crazy busy as the day was -- check out the NHL FanHouse Twitter Feed to see what I mean -- my favorite part of the day came when the when the press was packing up and the sun had long since gone down.
It was a little after 5:00 p.m. when I decided to wander back onto the field under the lights for a few more minutes to take one last look before heading back to my hotel. I unpacked the camera and took a few shots, all the while remembering that for a good portion of my life Wrigley Field had no lights. It was hard not to wonder what the place would look like with a packed house under the lights with a hockey game going on.
Heck, if the NFL can play at night in December and January, why not the NHL? I'm sure there are a thousand different reasons, but one can dream.
I took this shot of the right field wall standing right around the hole between first and second base. As you can see, the league has draped a painted tarp over the wall complete with faux brick and ivy -- a nice touch. On television, you'll see the same treatment used to cover the outside of the boards.
I don't want to belabor the point, but the quality of the ice surface was something everyone was talking about, including the players. While I was at the media skate on Tuesday there were a number of obvious ruts on the ice, including one right along the contour of one of the defensive zone faceoff circles. Direct sunlight also did some work, melting the ice down to the paint in more than a few places. Needless to say, NHL ice guru Dan Craig and his crew are going to be working all night to get the surface into shape, a process they were well into when I took this shot from the Red Wings bench.
And speaking of the Red Wings bench, here's a view from behind. I'm guessing I'm standing somewhere on the outfield grass at this point. I wanted to get a shot from the Blackhawks bench too, but the crews were still putting it together when I wandered by.
More than a few folks have asked out loud whether or not the NHL Winter Classic can retain the feel of an epic event if you wind up holding it every year. I can understand where those folks are coming from and something inside me can't help but agree -- if the league isn't careful, this event could very well wind up feeling pretty rote.
But that certainly isn't the case right now. As a native New Yorker, I guess I should be chagrined to admit that I'm grateful that this game isn't being played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Outside of Fenway Park, there isn't a more charming and intimate big name ball park in America outside of Wrigley Field, making the event and the venue a perfect match.
Another possibility that NHL COO John Collins mentioned the other day that can't be ignored: while the first three outdoor regular season NHL games were slated for football and baseball stadiums, there's no hard and fast rule that says that has to be the case in the future. I'm having a hard time thinking the NHL wouldn't be able to find a compelling outdoor venue in either Montreal or Quebec City that they could turn into a stadium with the help of temporary seating. Once you break out of the stadium box, the possibilities are really endless.
As you might imagine, I'm going to have a hard time getting to sleep tonight. Tomorrow promises to be something special, and I don't think we're going to be disappointed.