As the snow fell in on Ralph Wilson Stadium, Gary Bettman could sit back and smile. The N.H.L. had found its marquee event. Less than five years later, Bettman has destroyed his best product.
When the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in the 2008 Winter Classic, the game itself had more to offer than just the outcome. The event beckoned back to the roots of hockey, when children waited for the temperatures to drop so the ponds and lakes would freeze. The memories flooded back to the players when they stepped onto the ice.
“Mom! Dad! I’m going to the pond. I’ll be back later.”
They remember tossing their skates over their shoulder, grabbing their gear and trudging through two feet of snow to the rink. At that time, each of them channeled their favorite player.
“I’m Wayne Gretzky! I’m Bobby Clarke! I’m Bobby Orr! I wanna be Ken Dryden!”
The Winter Classic was pure. It was a unique event to be celebrated by those who love the game. Yes, money was to be made off it but that was an afterthought. The Winter Classic was a time to revert back to our ten-year-old selves. Now it has become a piggy bank, and Gary Bettman cannot wait to smash it with a sledge hammer.
I attended the 2012 Alumni Game, Winter Classic and Phantoms game at Citizens Bank Park. Coming from someone who played the game, the Winter Classic series took me back to my earliest memories. I could close my eyes and remember all of my firsts.
My first time skating on my own.
My first goal.
My first championship.
I opened my eyes and looked down at the younger children skating on the makeshift rink between what was the pitcher’s mound and home plate. I remembered being that age and watching the games with my mom and dad, begging them to let me stay up.
“Please! Just until the next whistle, and I’ll go to bed.”
I loved stepping onto the ice and feeling the cool air brush against my face as I picked up speed. Nothing mattered once I stepped onto the ice. It was me, my teammates, and a little rubber disk. School didn’t matter. Problems didn’t matter. Relationships didn’t matter. The next two hours were mine alone.
During an intermission at the Alumni game, former Flyers Eric Lindros and Mark Recchi decided to sit with the children as they played a pick-up game on the makeshift rink. The first thoughts that ran through my head were whether or not these children even knew who Lindros and Recchi were, what they meant to hockey in Philadephia. Those two were heroes of mine when I was their age. I can only hope those children have the same feelings as me when Claude Giroux and all their favorite Flyers grow into their late 30s and 40s.
The Winter Classic no longer has its nostalgic value. It’s purity was gutted for profit