While it comes as no surprise because the news was out there long ago, it was officially announced today that Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field – home of the Steelers – will host the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic on January 1. This year’s event won’t lack for star power, as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins host Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and the Washington Capitals.
Don’t get your breezer belts in a knot over this announcement if you’re one of the many clamoring for the Classic to come to Minnesota. Owner Craig Leipold has made no secret that he wants to bring the game to Minnesota, but he’s more hopeful for the 2012 game than he ever was about getting the 2011 event, due in no small part to the fact that Minnesota will already be hosting the 2011 NHL Entry Draft next June.
But it’s not going to be easy to land the classic. In the four year history of the event, there’s more to choosing the location than it being a great hockey market with cold weather that owns a premier outdoor venue. As this year’s event will show, the League likes those sexy matchups with the big name stars on the rosters. The League also seems to like the tradition-rich teams (Boston-Philly, Chicago-Detroit).
There’s no doubt that there isn’t an American NHL city that can hold a candle to the hockey passion displayed in our area. And we’ve got two potential sites. But will the Wild have the star power in 2012? We’ll have to wait and see how this year pans out first. The Wild’s performance this year, as well as the hopeful continued emergence of Mikko Koivu, Nik Backstrom and Brent Burns, could go a long way toward landing the gig in the near future.
Many fans have clamored for Minnesota to host the Dallas Stars in a meeting of past versus present on an outdoor sheet. While that storyline sounds great to us, is it going to grab the attention of the average hockey fan in any other market? That’s something the NHL will have to consider. And again, do Brendan Morrow and Brad Richards qualify as stars? In the eyes of the NHL and/or NBC, there would be higher appeal if the Wild hosted a team like the Chicago Blackhawks, who own several superstars, and are certainly one of the most popular teams in the game at this point.
And then there’s the competition. At first glance, it would seem the biggest competition to host the 2012 Classic would be New York – big market, big city, Original Six franchise, medium star power (Gaborik, Drury, Lundqvist, Avery?), and a venue (new Yankee stadium). But does the NHL want to continue to award the game to East Coast cities, which will have hosted all but one?
Other potential sites? Denver could be one, and Detroit could be another. I’d have a hard time believing the League would be comfortable trying to do something in Los Angeles, or even St. Louis. Canadian cities have the Heritage Classic (in Calgary this year), so we shouldn’t have to worry about them.
And what about the issue I brought up earlier this summer when talking about Hockey Day Minnesota? Other than the two obvious sites for an outdoor game, how about some ideas for a completely unique location? What about the pier underneath Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge? How about along the shores of one of our 10,000 lakes? What about a cornfield in Marshall, Minnesota? How about my driveway, which always has plenty of ice on it in January?
If Mystery, Alaska can get the New York Rangers to come all the way out there to play on a frozen pond, I don’t know why we can’t do the same here.