A lot of words come to mind when you think about the NHL Winter Classic: “Spectacle,” “Picturesque,” “Impressive” and “Overblown” are just a few of them. “Anger” and “Hatred” don’t usually come to mind. But the 2012 Winter Classic might be different. That’s not really very surprising when you consider who’s involved.
The NHL has put some big rivalries into the outdoor game recently, including Chicago versus Detroit and Pittsburgh versus Washington, but you could still never call the game hate-filled. There has always been an aura of fantasy and fun surrounding the Winter Classic. But that could change quickly.
Maybe it’s because the game has been going on for a while now and so it feels more like a regular game than a fancy exhibition. Regular hockey games are generally angry and competitive. Or maybe it’s because of the teams involved. After all, the Philadelphia Flyers took part in the first fight in Winter Classic history. Sure, Daniel Carcillo isn’t with the team any more, but the Flyers have never been a team that would shy away from the rough stuff. Just look at the preseason game they played with the Rangers yesterday and the penalty summary that went along with it:
Stupid, insensitive slurs aside, it seems apparent that these teams don’t like each other very much. Rangers general manager Glen Sather was already trying to stir up trouble at the Winter Classic press conference yesterday as he traded barbs with Flyers chairman Ed Snider:
“It’s a great event. I respected the fans in Philadelphia all the years I’ve been here. I’m sorry we kicked the hell out of you twice in the Stanley Cup. We’re going to do the same thing on [Jan. 2] and at the end of the year we will be carrying the Cup, just like the Yankees are going to have the world championship as well.”
Snider, the Flyers chairman, couldn’t resist to get a shot in himself.
“When he says, ‘We kicked the hell out of you in two Stanley Cups,’ he wasn’t talking about the Rangers,” Snider said. “I remember kicking the hell out of the Rangers on the way to our Cups.”
That’s a lot of of trash talk about the opposition and Sean Avery still hasn’t said anything yet.
Of course, insulting your opponent during the lead up to the Winter Classic is nothing new. Last year Max Talbot, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, called Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin “a real douche” when talking about the upcoming game. Talbot is now, very conveniently, a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
So will the upcoming Winter Classic finally become an intense, almost playoff-like contest between two hated rivals or will we continue to marvel at the scenery and talk about the tradition of the game ad nauseum while we nurse our hangovers? Right now the league seems focused on making the game safer and eliminating the sport’s image as one that glorifies violence, so does the NHL really want a hate-filled Winter Classic at all?
Or do they not care as long it as delivers ratings? Genuine dislike between two teams will certainly bring attention to the game, especially if it’s caught on HBO’s 24/7. The Winter Classic is in danger of becoming an old and boring concept. Maybe some anger will spice things up a bit.