A New York Classic In 2011

After another successful Winter Classic, with the Bruins 2-1 overtime win over the Flyers, hockey fans are yearning for more. The outdoor game has proven to be a successful showcase for the sport, showing the nation why so many fans love the game, while converting a few new backers along the way.

Yet, after Classics in Western Canada, Western New York, Chicago, and Boston, Metropolitan Area fans are wondering when the New Year’s game will be played in the New York area. After all, 10 percent of the NHL is located here, and with such a densely populated area, a sellout would be a cinch.

But putting the Winter Classic in New York isn’t the easiest of tasks. Much like so many things around here, a ton of red tape has to be cut before the Rangers, Islanders, or Devils will be playing under the cold January sun.

First, the league has to decide which of the three teams will represent New York. Unlike other markets, where there’s just one club, New York has three fan bases to draw and picking one would run the risk of alienating the other two. There’s very little crossover here, and since the league would like to get another market involved, just one of the three teams would participate in a New York Classic.

Although the Rangers are the obvious choice, the Devils and especially the Islanders could use the spotlight to ignite some interest. Even though New Jersey holds one of the best records in the league, they are a no-name squad that could use the bright outdoor lights, while the Islanders have a young team that’s getting better and maybe a few disenfranchised fans would come back if they saw them play on New Year’s Day.

But the NHL is more interested in promoting the whole sport and the Rangers will give them not only a large fan base, but a villain club which many will watch to see lose. So pretty much go with the Rangers here.

And if it is the Blueshirts, who would they play? With Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia being represented the last two years, the NHL l will probably look elsewhere. How about looking north and grabbing a Canadian team to play? The league could market it as America vs. Canada and it would be a win-fall for NBC. And given the Rangers history with a number of the Canadian teams, it would make for a few interesting matchups.

The league could tap Vancouver and make it a rematch of 1994, 15 years later. You could bring back all the members of both clubs and highlight that classic Stanley Cup Finals. Mark Messier could be the honorary captain of the Rangers, while Trevor Linden would wear the honorary ‘C’ for the Canucks.

Yet, this hasn’t been much of a rivalry since 1994 and outside of that seven game series, there’s little history there. Plus the Canucks would have to fly across country for this game, something they may not want to do.

If not Vancouver, how about Edmonton? Think about Glen Sather’s former team against his current club. Heck Messier could be honorary captain for both squads. Plus you would have former coach Tom Renney behind the bench for the Oilers, coaching against the Rangers in New York for the first time. That alone could be the story.

Yet with so many common players between the two franchises, the league could bring back many of them before the game. Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Glen Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Jeff Buekeboom, Esa Tikkanen, and Adam Graves – not to mention Sather and Renney – could be honored before the game.

But the Oilers have a tradition on New Year’s Eve every year when they play the Calgary Flames in the Battle of Alberta, so they would have to cancel that to play on New York.

Probably the best bet would be the Canadiens. Although not a fierce rival for a long time, this would be an Original Six matchup, surely to draw fans from both sides. And since the Habs beat the Rangers for the Cup in 1979, there’s some history there too. Plus you wouldn’t have to worry too much about the travel.

So let’s go with Blueshirts against the Habs, and with that out of the way, now let’s look at where they would play.

Yankee Stadium has been rumored for the last two years. In 2009, the league wanted to use the old building, but construction ended that and this year the NHL went with a surer bet in Boston. In 2011, though, the stadium may not be available. With the Yankee Bowl coming late in the year, the NHL may not have the two weeks it needs to convert the facility for hockey. A nice idea but that window seems to be closed for now.

And the New Meadowlands may be out as well, since the Jets and Giants will still be playing. Unlike Ralph Wilson Stadium three Classics ago, the league won’t be able to get both the Jets and Giants to go on the road for two week that late into the football season. Plus the 82,000 seats may be a tough fill. And since it is located in New Jersey, the Devils may try to block the Rangers from playing there, unless of course they are playing Devils.

So that leaves one logical choice. Citi Field will be available for two weeks. Its 42,000 seat capacity makes it better for the classic, and since the seats are closer to the field, it may be more conducive viewing. And because it’s in Queens it would be out of the way of the Times Square celebration the night before.

The only question is if the Mets would want the game at their ballpark, especially with the NHL flirting with the Yankees the last few years.

Yet, Jeff Wilpon is a hockey fans and has been seen at Madison Square Garden taking in a game every once in a while. With the new ballpark pretty much vacant, there’s no reason why the Mets would be against an influx of off-season revenue.

The NHL has done a great job with the Winter Classic. Wrigley and Fenway were slam dunks and while there are other worthy locations, New York is the next logical choice. So let’s have the Rangers take on the Canadiens at Citi Field to ring in 2011.

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