Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ranking every NHL outdoor game

We’re a little over a week into the NHL regular season, so you know what that means: It must be time for an outdoor game.

OK, that may have been harsh. We’ve waited a long time for an outdoor game in Winnipeg, and this weekend’s Heritage Classic between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers should be all sorts of fun.

But it’s probably fair to say that while most fans still love the spectacle of an outdoor game, some of the novelty has worn off over the years, thanks to the league overdoing the concept.

This year’s schedule features four outdoor games — up from last year’s three, but still well under the record six games that the NHL served up in 2013-14.

Counting a handful of exhibitions, Sunday's game will mark the 22nd outdoor game in NHL history. Some of those have been memorable. Others, not so much.

Today, let's look back at those 21 outdoor games that are already in the books and count them down from worst to best. It's a subjective list, obviously, but we'll be looking at a few criteria, including the novelty factor, the venue, the buildup, and the quality of the game itself.

Oh, and games will get bonus points for actually being played outside. That's bad news for the first game on our list...

#21: March 2, 2014 – Senators 4, Canucks 2 (BC Place)

Let's see if we can list all the problems with the league's worst-ever outdoor game.

It featured two teams with no history or rivalry of any kind. The novelty factor was close to zero, given that it was the sixth outdoor game in nine weeks and the second one played that weekend. The game itself was only marginally entertaining, and is probably best remembered for John Tortorella's decision to nuke the team's relationship with Roberto Luongo for no particular reason.

And, oh yeah, it wasn't actually played outdoors – rain forced the stadium's retractable roof to be closed. The only argument against this game being dead last on our list is that it technically shouldn't be on here at all.

#20: April 9, 1956 – Bruins vs. Bay Roberts local teams (Conception Bay Sports Arena)

This was a weird one. As part of an exhibition series played after the Boston Bruins' regular season had ended, the team made a series of stops through Newfoundland to face local teams.

That included a stop in Conception Bay for what was supposed to be a fairly standard game against three local squads. But the local arena wasn’t finished yet, so the event ended up being played outdoors in fog and drizzle.

At one point, according to legend, Bruins' goalie Terry Sawchuk was spotted holding an umbrella.

#19: January 1, 2011 – Capitals 3, Penguins 1 (Heinz Field)

You could make a strong case that the fourth Winter Classic was the most-anticipated outdoor hockey game ever played.

The novelty hadn't worn off yet, the matchup featured the league's two biggest stars in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and the buildup included the debut of HBO's 24/7 documentary mini-series, which helped turn the game into something that felt like an epic confrontation straight out of Hollywood.

But then the actual game arrived, and things went off the rails.

Warm weather, wind and the threat of rain put the entire event in jeopardy. They eventually got the game started seven hours late, pushing it out of its scheduled afternoon slot. And despite all the star power, the game ended up being a low-scoring affair in which Eric Fehr played the hero.

Then, of course, there was the game's only truly memorable moment: David Steckel's blindside hit on Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins' star was allowed to remain in the game, played four nights later, took another hard hit and missed the rest of the season (and beyond) with a concussion.

Based on the buildup, this one should have been an easy top-ten pick. But the enduring image from the game will always be the sport's best player doubled over and facing an uncertain future.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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