Monday, January 27, 2014

New York Rangers 7 at New Jersey Devils 3 (NHL Stadium Series) - January 26, 2014


I have never been particularly interested in the outdoor hockey craze that started with the Cold War back in 2001 when Michigan State hosted Michigan in East Lansing. Of course, it was the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo that really got the puck rolling, and now there are outdoor games all around the world every year. I did plan to attend the 2013 Winter Classic with the Maple Leafs scheduled to face Detroit, but the NHL lockout put paid to that idea, and my NFL Road Trip precluded a visit to the 2014 edition. However, this year the NHL went a bit crazy, scheduling five other outdoor games, including 2 in Yankee Stadium as part of the Stadium Series, so I had a chance to go.

However, I had heard mixed reviews of the outdoor hockey experience from friends, and wasn't particularly eager to attend either game here in New York. The issue for me was not the cold, but the view. Watching a hockey game from so far away just didn't seem enjoyable. Add on the outrageous ticket prices and it was a no-brainer to stay at home.

With two games during Super Bowl week though, the NHL seems to have oversaturated the market and ticket prices dropped dramatically as the games approached. The night before the first game featuring the Devils and Rangers, I saw tickets below $50 on StubHub. I started following the prices and found a ticket with a face value of $229 for $54.50 including fees. The forecast was for a chilly day but nothing that I wouldn't be used to having grown up in Ottawa long before global warming. A rare impulse purchase for me and on Sunday morning, I found myself taking the 4 train to Yankee Stadium.



StubHub has an office at the Bronx Terminal Market just a few blocks south of the stadium. I stopped in to pick up my ticket and was surprised at how many other customers there were. This was clearly a game in which the secondary market would provide much of the attendance, a sign that the league had overpriced the game and overestimated the demand. Walking north on River Avenue, I noticed about the same number of Devils and Rangers fans making their way toward the stadium, although this was officially a home game for New Jersey.



Entering the stadium was easy enough and I made my way around the lower concourse, which was already very crowded an hour before scheduled puck drop at 12:30. Seats here were the cheapest, just a $79 face value, as you really can't see the ice surface that well from down low. However, it was probably a bit warmer than being in the upper deck.



The view from the bleachers (above) was not much better but slightly more expensive at $119 or $149. Monument Park was open but many of the plaques had been removed for the winter.



The upper levels, usually the cheap seats, provided the best view of the entire ice surface. I was in section 423 which had a good angle towards the net next to the first base foul line. The seats in the 200 level are probably the best but they are still quite overpriced, even on the secondary market.



This shot below is from Section 420B, which was directly at center ice. This was taken before the game and much of the ice surface was covered by a tarp. That didn't seem to improve matters and Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur was highly critical of the ice while discussing the pre-game delay due to glare on the ice surface.



The festivities didn't get started until 12:50 with the Jersey Boys cast performing a few songs, which did not impress the fans, who just wanted to watch some hockey. After the players warmed up, we sat around for another 20 minutes until the colour guard appeared along with the NYPD and FDNY pipes and drums band to play the teams onto the ice. The temperature at puck drop was 24 degrees, and it seemed to remain fairly constant throughout the contest. That wouldn't be a problem normally when you are enjoying some outdoor winter activities, but sitting around in a wind blown stadium is not the best way to deal with the chill. I heard several fans say that this would be their sole outdoor hockey experience and I cannot disagree. It is something to experience once but going again is not something I will consider, regardless of the cost and the weather, as you are just too far away from the action. You can barely hear the sounds of the game, an integral part of seeing the game live. I know they have microphones around the rink but they can't have the sounds broadcast to the stadium because the players say naughty words. Can't be any worse than what I heard from the fans in attendance though; the rivalry between these two can get heated. Unfortunately, that would be the only warmth found on this day.

The Game

Outdoor hockey in the NHL has been traditionally low scoring, with 41 total goals scored over the previous 9 games. That average of 4.5 goals per game would be bested in the first period alone as New Jersey's Patrick Elias scored twice and Travis Zajac (#19 below) added another to give the Devils a quick 3-1 lead, much to the delight of their fans.



After that though, the Rangers dominated. Marc Staal added a fluke goal that snuck through Brodeur's legs before the end of the first to make it 3-2. Mats Zuccarello added a couple in the second to give the Rangers the 4-3 lead and then Carl Hagelin scored a beauty that had Brodeur completely flummoxed.



When Rick Nash (#61 above) scored another fluky one with just 29 seconds left in the middle frame, the game was pretty much over and many fans packed up and left.



Brodeur was replaced to start the third (that's him on the bench above as Marek Zidlicky skates by) and Corey Schneider came in to face just 5 shots. The only one that got by him was a Derek Stepan penalty shot (below) that made the final 7-3 Rangers.



It was an entertaining first two periods, but Brodeur's complaints turned out to be prescient, as a couple of lucky bounces really helped the Rangers.



Notes

Calgary remains the only home team to win an outdoor contest in regulation with their 4-0 victory over Montreal back in 2011. Boston won the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway in overtime. The other 8 teams have lost.

Both teams wore special uniforms for the game, with the Devils resorting to their red and green throwbacks while the Rangers making some minor changes to their typical road attire. All in the name of separating the fan from his money and it worked quite well, I saw several fans with one of these special jerseys, which made a great Christmas present I guess.

The Islanders "host" the Rangers on Wednesday in the second game of the series in New York. Upper level tickets with good views of the ice are currently (as of Monday morning) $87 and up, but I expect those prices to drop.

Best,

Sean

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