PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 02: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrates after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers as Chad Kolarik #25 of the New York Rangers skates past him during the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on January 2, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Yes, the Winter Classic is always, and will always, be a very special event for the teams and fan bases involved. But the 2012 Winter Classic was special for other reasons. Sure, the game was outdoors, but the Rangers and the Flyers weren't just battling for Winter Classic bragging rights, they were battling for first place.
Let's not mince words here: NBC struck gold with this matchup and the game itself. Both teams are off to brilliant seasons and the game itself probably couldn't have been any more exciting or jaw-dropping, which is probably why NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was smiling from ear to ear after all was said and done.
"I guess you could say a rivalry outdoors is as good as one indoors," he said after the game. "We had a terrific day. It's not every day that an event can actually equal or exceed the hype and the buzz that goes with it, but I think we had -- without regard to who you root for -- a really terrific day."
Join me after the jump for more.
One of the best parts of the game was the atmosphere, especially since the game was worth so much in the standings. They actually opened the windows in the press box -- the first time they've ever done that for w Winter Classic -- so even from press row you could feel the swelling of emotions as the game intensified down the stretch.
"The crowd was terrific," Bettman said. "The fans here in Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia were great. Obviously, there were a number of fans who traveled from a great distance to come here, as well, and that was great to see. I want to do a fair amount of thank you-ing, starting with David Montgomery of the Phillies and Citizens Bank Park staffs. They were just terrific. Obviously the Rangers and Flyers for being as cooperative and as engaged as they were in the event."
Bettman also wanted to tip his cap to the behind-the-scenes people who helped make the Classic happen.
"From an NHL standpoint, Don Renzulli, who runs special events; Dan Craig, who is the ice guru, they did a spectacular job," he said. "And this event continues to grow and get stronger, as evidenced by the ancillary events, such as the Alumni Game two days ago. So we thank everybody who was involved, and we felt we had a really good day."
I was very impressed by the venue itself. It was cool being able to look down at the ice while also seeing the Philadelphia skyline in the background of the stadium. I also though the grandstands added in what would have been center field was very well done.
"It was spectacular," Bettman said of Citizens Bank Park. "We could not have asked for any more from the event. And I think the Alumni Game was a great appetizer to the main event today -- having 45,000 people in here on Saturday -- and just the entire reception in the city, the buzz throughout the city, and the crowd today was great. This was just a terrific event for us, and we are grateful to everybody who was involved, particularly and including the City of Philadelphia."
Bettman also said he "doesn't know where we are going next year," so nothing is set in stone for the 2013 NHL Winter Classic. The general consensus right now is that the Detroit Red Wings will host it, but that's just pure speculation.
Regardless of next year, this year's Classic was an absolute home run. And when the Winter Classic is doing well, the game of hockey is doing well too.
And in the end, that's really all that matter during an event like this.