Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hockeyology: NHL Winter Classic preview

By Rick Morris

As part of our content-sharing agreement with affiliated websites under the Friends of FDH Club banner, we proudly present this great preview of the NHL Winter Classic, which will be appearing on NBC on New Year's Day when the Detroit Red Wings take on the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field. Before we get to the great preview from Hockeyology's Russ Cohen, however, check out this great time-lapse video that the NHL produced which shows the transformation of one of America's most venerable baseball fields into a home for winter hockey.

Also, stay tuned to The Lounge for updates during the week. We will be receiving texts from Russ, live from Wrigley, as he glimpses memorable moments this week at Wrigley and we'll pass them along via our new Twitter feed -- which is constantly updated on this very site.

The Winter Classic gets casual fans to watch hockey
By Russ Cohen

Last year's Winter Classic did something very special for the sport of hockey. It gave the game a worldwide audience on a day when most people are at home, looking for something to watch on the tube, and instead of watching the "Courier Bowl" (made up name) or some game between two bad teams, the coolest sport on ice took center stage on NBC and they knocked it out of the park. It was a ratings success.

OK, I used the baseball reference because this year’s game will be on NBC once again on New Year’s Day in a baseball landmark. The game will feature the Blackhawks against the Red Wings and don’t worry, the ‘Hawks fans have no love for the Wings, so the game will feature an electric atmosphere for sure. I covered the “Heritage Classic” at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta and last year’s classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY but Wrigley Field will raise the bar once again.

If you are wondering why these two teams were picked, I say the choice was simple. Wrigley is one of the precious ageless stadiums left in the world and the rise of the Blackhawks gives the team an “Original Six” battle and it doesn’t hurt that the Wings are the defending Stanley Cup champs.

The 2006 NHL Entry Draft set the stage for the rebuilding of this team by drafting their eventual captain in Jonathan Toews. At the time, he was nervously wondering which baseball team he should root for and I quickly told him “the Cubs” and then he entered the scrum to give his first interview away from the podium as a member of the Blackhawks. He ended up seeing the White Sox that summer, but now he will find out why I told him to root for the Cubbies, it’s the venue!

In 2007 Patrick Kane was drafted, and to me, he was already a rock star based on his performance in the World Junior Championships and the time that he spent playing for the London Knights.

“It’s unbelievable to join the group of players that have gone number one. The Lecavaliers and Crosbys and Ovechkins all went number one and they seem to be taking over the league. So to join that crop of players is unbelievable. I can’t even describe it,” Kane said in a very modest tone on that day.

Just two years later, and he is now one of the top players in the league amassing 104 points in his first 107 games. This year he’s good for more than a point-per-game and that has to remind fans of the great Bobby Hull just from a scoring perspective.

The last offensive piece to really fit well was the acquisition of former Boston Bruin Kris Versteeg (and a conditional draft pick). The Bruins drafted him in the fifth round back in 2004 and just three years later they moved 5-10, 180 pound winger for a bigger winger in Brandon Bochenski. He was 6-0, 193 pounds and he could score. That was all he could do, and after his 11-goal season he followed that up with no goals in 200,7 and now he is a 26-year-old NHL journeyman.

So now the 22-year-old Hawk has a chance to be the second-consecutive Calder Trophy winner in this franchise; Kane won it last season. Why does Chicago look like a playoff team? Well I gave you three good reasons. Two other reasons are the Bowmans.

“I’m not sure his record has been achieved by anybody else - 11 championships, 11 Stanley Cups,” Blackhawks President John McDonough said with pride.

“What Scotty has been able to do over the years is deliver on a goal,” Chairman, W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz said.

“Toe Blake coached 13 seasons and he won eight Stanley Cups. I got to know him when I was coaching in juniors (in the Canadiens organization) and he was kind of a mentor to me,” Scotty Bowman said with pride. His son Stan is the team’s assistant GM.

Wrigley Field has been the backdrop to the Bears and the Cubs, we all know that. In 1988 they added lights -- otherwise this game would never have been possible! The lights were on early last year.

Did you know that “Jake Ellwood” of the Blues Brothers listed 1060 W. Addison as his address on his Illinois drivers license? In 2005 Jimmy Buffett played the first-ever concert there. And now the first hockey game will take place there - - and it will be memorable.

Catch Russ Cohen and Shane Malloy on XM Hockey Prospect Radio and The Business of Hockey XM (204)/Sirius (208) shows on Saturday Noon-2 and Sunday 4-6 EST with some surprise guests.

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