The NHL is going to hold an outdoor game in Buffalo on New Years Day 2008. The Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburg Penguins will face off unprotected against the elements, which in Buffalo can be rather brutal in January. The is the second outdoor game that the NHL has held in the modern era. The first was in 2003 in Edmonton, and it is generally regarded as being a great success. The game sold out, tv rating were at an all-time high (at least in Canada), and the players enjoyed playing outdoors. So, it is not surprising that the NHL is doing it again. This time they have picked a safe American market to try and generate a bit of interest south of the border. Buffalo is a good choice because it is a true hockey town. The game sold out in less than half-an-hour, and it is already generating a buzz in the Buffalo media.
The idea of playing an outdoor game, and having it count in the standings, has proven to be a bit controversial. Some, such as the Toronto Star have claimed that an outdoor game is absurd. However, I suspect that this is partly a case of sour grapes because Toronto did not get the game. My opinion is that playing a game outside is a great idea. Yes, it is a gimmick. Yes, depending on the wind one team could be at a distinct disadvantage, and yes, fans may have to sit in sleet and snow to watch the game, but these are the things that make hockey games legendary. Does anyone remember any games from the 1975 Flyers--Sabres series other than the infamous "Fog Game"? How many games do you remember from 2003? I will bet that the outdoor game is one of them.
So, play a game outside. Have it count in the standings. Three points in January will not make a lot of difference. Give the fans in Buffalo something that they will remember for the rest of their lives. But sorry Buffalo, I will be rooting for the Penguins.