The NHL today confirmed what Commissioner Gary Bettman called the "worst-kept secret" in the League, which evidently isn't the insatiable desire for ESPN to one day pay good money for hockey television rights. No, it's the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park, as the Boston Bruins are scheduled to host the Philadelphia Flyers on New Year's Day at 1 p.m.
This will be the third outdoor game held under the Winter Classic banner, after the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 and the Detroit Red Wings at the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in 2009. The interest and ratings have increased from year to year.
Naturally, this led Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs to predict that "from everything we can tell, it will probably be the biggest Classic."
There are reasons to believe he's correct ... and there are reasons to have some concerns about the 2010 Winter Classic in Boston. Here are five apiece:
Five Reasons to Celebrate the Fenway Classic
1. The Flyers and Bruins Are Iconic. Sure, some fans are bummed that another "Original Six" team won't be facing the Bruins at Fenway. But the casual sports fan has a connection to both of these franchises not only from a hockey perspective (Flyers=bullies, Bruins=blue collar) but as cities that inspire partisan feelings whether we're talking pucks or balls. (What does a New Yorker root for on Jan. 1 since there are no more ties in hockey?)
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2. The Tantalizing Potential for a Donnybrook. Through two Winter Classics, we've yet to have a fighting major. The Flyers have Daniel Carcillo (254 penalty minutes last season), Ian Laperriere (163), Riley Cote (174) and Scott Hartnell (143); the Bruins have Milan Lucic (136) and Shawn Thornton (123) among others. The potential for nastiness between these two teams exists based on their history. They'll be told to put on a clean show for the casual fans; let's hope they don't.
3. Winter Classic, Winter Weather. The average high temperature in Boston during January is 36 degrees Fahrenheit and the low is 22: perfect. More importantly, the city greeted 2009 with the sort of winter wonderland that made the first Winter Classic in Buffalo look like a snow globe and last year's look like pond hockey.
4. Watching Hockey From The Green Monster. Ticket information is forthcoming, but watching hockey from the best seats in baseball for Boston Red Sox games can only be a good thing. Sure, it's not mingling on a Wrigley rooftop; but it sure beats freezing off your rump at the top of a Buffalo football stadium.
5. Boston? Hockey? It's a Party. New England is hockey mad. Boston is hockey mad, on top of also being one of the best towns for interacting with brash sports fans for a big game. The only question will be if the Flyers and Bruins fans can drown out the usual cacophony of taunting from Boston University and Boston College hockey fans at local watering holes.
On the other hand ...
Five Reasons to Worry About the Fenway Classic
1. Back-to-Back Home Runs. While the stadia offer their own charms, there's something a little repetitive about doing classic baseball parks in back-to-back seasons. NBC expertly sold the Wrigley Field event by borrowing the iconography of baseball. Will the 2010 promotions simply insert images of the Green Monster for green ivy?
2. What Not To Wear. The NHL is 3-for-4 in Winter Classic jerseys, with the Detroit Red Wings missing the mark last season by sporting an ultimately pedestrian sweater that looked like a bad marching band uniform. The Flyers wear orange nightmares for their third jerseys; the Bruins have worn everything from yellow teddy bears to menacing black bears in recent years. The color schemes could work, but can either team offer a new variation that fans want to snatch up?
3. It Could Get Crowded In There. There's playing hockey in a baseball stadium and then there's playing hockey in an ancient baseball stadium. Joe Haggerty, Bruins reporter for WEEI.com, wrote that both the Flyers and the Bruins might share the same clubhouse for the Winter Classic. Would they use the room in shifts? Will they fight over the mirror like middle-school girls? Hopefully this rumor doesn't pan out.
4. Mike Milbury Plus Boston Equals 'Ugh'. The lead commentator/provocateur on NBC, which will have the Winter Classic rights again next year, has been former Boston Bruins goon and head coach Mike Milbury. He's also an analyst for NESN in Boston for Bruins games. While not as unabashed a Bruins homer as other Boston broadcasters, Milbury is still a Bostonian voice on a national broadcast featuring the Bruins ... which could prove to be as unlistenable as a former Dallas Cowboys star covering America's Team on an NFL Sunday.
5. Finally, Who Is the Drawing Card? The 2008 Winter Classic had Sidney Crosby. The 2009 Winter Classic had the defending Stanley Cup champions and a resurgent Chicago Blackhawks club. The Flyers and Bruins are compelling teams coming off playoff disappointments; and there's no way the casual fan is drawn to Mike Richards, Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara in the same way they would have been for Alexander Ovechkin had the Washington Capitals landed the visitor's spot.
Then again, this decision leaves Ovechkin fresh for a future Classic. C'mon now: Caps, Penguins, the frozen water on the Mall in D.C. Make it so, NHL ... well, after making the Fenway Classic another successful trip outdoors.