Hockey, Column

Outdoor Hockey’s Allure Is Melting

After getting off the B line to go to Frozen Fenway, I sprinted through the sidewalks of snow-laden Boston only to see a traffic jam. For a change, it was not cars that were stuck, but a stream of people packed onto the Brookline Ave. bridge that connects Kenmore Square to Fenway Park.

Normally the foot traffic flows pretty well, but Saturday night was a mess. Providence and Merrimack fans flooded out of the stadium from a game that ended late, and the bridge was in no shape for those walking in the area. A pack of three girls in front of me slipped around the slushy sidewalks, before somebody behind me said, “it’s like walking on sand.”

They were right. The path was wicked mushy.

After making it over the bridge, it was 7:40 p.m. Turning down Lansdowne St. in search of Gate D with four layers on, I thought about the thousands of people prepared to sit outside for the next four hours to watch a hockey game.

Sure, it wasn’t just any matchup, as BC was taking on Notre Dame in an icy rendition of the Holy War.

But wouldn’t everyone had been better off inside? The ice was a mess and had to be tended to throughout the evening, even though temperatures were well below freezing.

That is not the way the game should be played with such high levels of talent on display. Johnny Gaudreau is one of college hockey’s most skilled players and the ice was too slick for him, as he swung and missed on a shot and botched a few breakaways, most notably one in the third period.

Perhaps it would be more exciting to see the Calgary Flames’ prospect dangle Steven Summerhays in the confines of Conte Forum, as opposed to watching him losing his handle on the puck at Fenway Park.

The constant stoppages in the game were tedious as well, as the fast-paced thrill of hockey was marred by interruptions. While the crew working on the ice was tireless in its efforts throughout the evening, it was fighting an impossible battle.

For those involved with hockey, playing outside is special. Some view it as a way for the game to get back to its roots, as many who now play both at the college and professional level grew up skating with their parents on local ponds or makeshift backyard rinks.

Even though all sports have roots, that does not mean they should be heading back to them. Soccer players begin playing in bizarre places, such as the streets of Brazil, or as Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko did, in the waste ground behind his school, according to an article by The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson. In addition, many basketball players start playing on hoops in local playgrounds.

But there were few cries for a Shevchenko testimonial at that waste ground, and no World Cup matches in Brazil will be centered on concrete.

There are more games to come from Fenway Park in the coming week, and stadiums around the United States and Canada are preparing for a slew of outdoor matchups over the next two months. The NHL Stadium Series will take place at Yankee Stadium in New York, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Soldier Field in Chicago, before the Heritage Classic in early March at Vancouver’s BC Place.

In fact, the latter of those games is the one that kicked off the outdoor frenzy. The prelude to the Winter Classic came in 2003 when Edmonton and Montreal played on Canadian television.

While Boston hosted a memorable matchup between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Winter Classic, what was becoming a fun tradition has turned into overkill. Fenway was iced in 2012, but the event is getting out of hand. Members of the media scoffed when the combined attendance for Saturday night’s game was announced as 31,569, as fans were sprinkled past the first base line and were confined to the upper parts of the stadium.

Playing hockey games outside is a novelty beginning to lose its glamour.


January 6, 2014

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