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Rangers vs. Sabres: Thoughts on the Winter Classic

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My experience of attending the 2018 Winter Classic.

J.T. Miller lines up for a faceoff in the offensive zone.
Tom Urtz Jr.

I remember exactly what I was doing on January 2, 2012. I was home enjoying the holiday break from school and excited to be watching the New York Rangers playing in the outdoor novelty of the Winter Classic. Part of that was due to an amazing build up to the game courtesy of HBO’s now defunct 24/7 series which really set the stage for the Rangers and Flyers to clash at Citizens Bank Park.

I don’t need to rehash the finer details of the game but I remember after the final buzzer sounded, moments after a crucial Henrik Lundqvist penalty shot save on Daniel Briere, saying that the next time the Rangers participated in an outdoor game that I would be there. I knew people who went to the game in Philly and they explained that it lived up to the hype,and reminded them of why they fell in love with hockey in the first place. They all told me that it was something that you attend and never forget.

When the Stadium Series came to Yankee Stadium I was unable to attend, and I even missed the first one vs. the New Jersey Devils on TV. On January 26, 2014 I was in the front seat of my mom’s car as she drove me back to SUNY Oswego for my final college semester.

This was the case because on my second to last day of work before returning to school, my 2005 Ford Taurus hit a patch of ice and skidded off the road. The car was in no condition to drive back to school, so she drove me back and the only convenient time coincided with the timing of the game. Understandably, this situation also explains why I couldn’t attend the January 29th tilt vs. the New York Islanders.

This all leads to this past Monday, January 1, 2018, the 10th anniversary of the Winter Classic featuring the Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres. When Citi Field was announced as the site of the game months earlier I was ecstatic as a die-hard Mets fan. I envisioned how the rink would be setup, what the scenery would look like, where I would want to sit, and how cold it would be.

NHL: Winter Classic-Buffalo Sabres vs New York Rangers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The setup was as I thought – some of the scenery was a bit cliche, with a bunch of retro NYC taxis strutting up and down a tarp painted to look like the cleanest city streets I have ever seen, and the cold was much more of a factor than I originally thought.

I was prepared with multiple layers, but by the third period my toes were shivering through wool socks and snow boots after sitting up on the Coca Cola porch for a few hours. Speaking of the Coca Cola porch, I have seen a few Met games from that spot; the view of the ice from Section 302 was pretty great all things considered.

A view from section 302.
Tom Urtz Jr.

It reminded me of sitting in one of the upper corners of Madison Square Garden prior to the renovation. I say that because although you are clearly set back from the rink, you have a pretty fantastic sight line of the entire ice. I understand the NHL prefers to have outdoor games in larger football stadiums to maximize on revenue, but I think having the games set in a baseball stadium provides a better experience for the fan.

The game itself was different than any indoor game I have been to, from the sound of the crowd, a puck hitting a post or stanchion, or even the sound of two players colliding along the boards. Acoustically it was neat to see the action first and then hear it, similar to that of seeing a player connect on a pitch and then hearing the crack of the bat.

In terms of sound, the greatest sound of the event was hearing an explosion of sound as J.T. Miller put home a rebound of Kevin Shattenkirk’s point shot for the game-winning goal.

The crowd was raucous in celebrating what just happened, and then seamlessly joined in singing the goal song as soon as it hit the speakers.

The last time I heard a crowd that loud was 427 days earlier on November 1, 2015 –coincidentally a game also held at Citi Field. That roar came in the bottom of the 8th inning as Matt Harvey walked off the mound following a fly out to center fielder Juan Lagares in Game 5 of the World Series. I was in the upper deck between left field and third base, and the building was shaking following that out. In that moment I thought I was witnessing something special, until that fateful 9th inning happened.

Needless to say, I was very happy to walk out of Citi Field after a victory considering the Rangers squandered a 2-0 lead. I would have been very annoyed to see the team lose after freezing my derriere off for a few hours. If you have the means to attend an outdoor game, I highly recommend doing so; it is an experience in every sense of the word. I will admit that prior to attending the game, I felt that the concept had become watered down with the addition of Stadium Series, and it was more hype than anything else.

I remember watching last year’s outdoor games, but off hand can’t spit back anything of value about those games. The same can’t be said after attending this year’s game. It was something special I was able to experience with my parents and younger brother, and something I will look back on with joy.

Ultimately it was a game that gave the Rangers a much needed two points in the standings. But to be honest during the game I really wasn’t thinking about that, I wasn’t looking at the game in a larger picture and the implications the outcome had on the team.

I guess that is why the NHL started this event and holds it every year. The league wanted to create an environment that brought the game back to its roots and an atmosphere in which the fans watching can focus on a game they love and that’s it. I love watching hockey, writing about it, and analyzing it to the best of my abilities, but I must say it was pretty cool to just watch the game and enjoy it for what it was. I liked the way it made me feel, reminded me why I started watching this game, and why I love it so much.