I've been to many a hockey game, in many different venues.
For the better part of the last two decades, I've frequented Madison Square Garden, watching many different Rangers teams. I spent all of last year living in TD Garden as a writer for the Bruins. I've seen games at the Prudential Center, a number of college arenas, and even in Fenway Park this year. And none of them will be as memorable as the Yankee Stadium game.
This was actually the fifth outdoor game I've seen in person this year (the other four I was sitting in a press box at Fenway Park). Sunday was downright cold, and there was a glare delay. I almost got into a fight during the National Anthem. And yet, I couldn't stop grinning at each turn.
There's something about the aesthetic of outdoor hockey on such a large stage that makes you feel warm. The grandiose backdrop of Yankee Stadium only elevated the environment, the setting, and the entire experience. The pageantry and fanfare the league and the teams were able to put on was downright special.
The second I got off the train, and began to walk toward the gates, I could tell the crowd was going to be great. The attendance was announced at 50,105, and whether that many people showed up or not, the venue was packed. I'd say it was a pretty even split between Devils and Rangers fans, while there might have been slightly more Rangers fans. (My section was also filled with Rangers fans, which may have skewed how I gauged it.)
The dynamic of the crowd was fantastic.
The pace and consistent goal scoring lent itself to an active crowd, and fans were cheering early and often. Fans cheered when the tarp was taken off the field around 12:30. Cheered during the pregame video montages, with guys like Stephane Matteau, Scott Stevens, Mark Messier, and Martin Brodeur making cameos. And cheered at each check, goal, or major development the two teams brought to the fold.
While it was a Devil's home game, it certainly had a Rangers feel. Madison Square Garden staples like "Potvin sucks" chants, the goal song, and "Maaaarty" decries rained down from the Blueshirts faithful. Heck, even Dancing Larry made an appearance on the jumbo tron—bald head and all—even if he wasn't given his normal performance segment.
In short, the fundamental components of a Rangers home game synthesized with the magnificence of outdoor hockey in Yankee Stadium was almost overwhelming.
I'm not a big proponent of outdoor hockey in its current form. I think it's played out, overdone, and has lost a lot of its intrigue. Of course, as long as these games continue to rake in revenue, the cash cow will continue its annual tradition.
There's a reason Sunday's game was considered such an anomaly, and it's because outdoor games are generally low scoring. The ice is sub par, team's have to simplify their play, and the overall hockey is generally not as quality.
Make no mistake though: If you're a fan of hockey, it's something you need to do. It's as much an event as it is a sporting event. The atmosphere I experienced at Yankee Stadium on Sunday will likely never be matched in any game I attend the rest of my life. I have and will see better hockey played, but I may never see a better spectacle.
As the seconds ticked off, and fireworks lit the sky, I took in my surroundings one last time. I'll create new hockey memories in the coming years, but this one will always stick with me.