Outdoor game jumps the shark

The outdoor hockey game has officially jumped the shark. The game this year has moved from kitschy nostalgia to having one for the sake of having one.

The outdoor hockey game has officially jumped the shark.

The game this year has moved from kitschy nostalgia to having one for the sake of having one.

In the past 12 months, there have been 13 outdoor games of note — and that’s not counting the three more that are scheduled in February.

One of the big things that made the game worthwhile was that it was cool, it was exclusive.

It was like being able to drive around town in a Ferrari.

Now it’s like driving around in a Ford Mustang.

Still different, still cool, but when every other Joe has one, it certainly loses some of its lustre.

This year, that lustre has been completely stripped from the outdoor game.

It’s also a very expensive proposition to host these games, yet often they are drawing fewer than 10,000 people.

Upon hosting the Northern Classic in Fort McMurray, Craig Tkachuk — who was the director of the Heritage Classic in Edmonton in 2003 — bragged to the Fort McMurray Today’s Greg Downs that: “Not too many communities could actually do this, and not small Alberta communities, but not many communities period. A million dollars put this together but a lot of it’s donated. It’s the can-do attitude of Fort McMurray that there’s nothing it can’t do.”

In actuality, the game cost $850,000 to put on. Attendance was 5,726.

Granted, for an Alberta Junior Hockey League game, that’s a huge gathering. But at the same time for most AJHL teams, that’s an entire year’s operating budget in one night.

Also, when a Western Hockey League team puts a game together for a crowd of 7,075 — as the Spokane Chiefs did last weekend — I have to really wonder what the point was. The Calgary Hitmen, for example, will attract almost three times that for their annual teddy bear toss at Christmas.

Another head-scratching outdoor game as a 2011 world junior hockey championship Division 3 game between Mexico and Bulgaria in Mexico City that drew 3,000 fans.

I can only imagine the quality of play and the quality of ice. Was holding it outdoors absolutely necessary?

There once was something almost romantic about the outdoor game. It legitimately was a step back in time, not only for the players but for the fans who were taken back to when they were growing up.

At one point, organizers made an effort to make the game special, whether it was in search of breaking attendance records, breaking out the stars of years gone by for an old-timers game on the same day or taking advantage of a certain setting like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.

I can only imagine what it would have been like to be at the KHL’s all-star game in 2009 played in Moscow’s Red Square.

That would have been cool.

But now organizers are force-feeding us the game.

They are banking on phoney rivalries like the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Washington Capitals to carry the event. The Penguins’ real rival, of course, is the Philadelphia Flyers. But NBC wants us to believe in the made-for-TV hate between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin because they really are that creatively shallow and have no idea how to sell the game otherwise.

And now the NHL has amped up their outdoor quota to two games this year, the second of which is the second Heritage Classic, in Calgary on Feb. 20 between the Flames and Montreal Canadiens.

And the WHL, of course, is jumping on the back of this and hosting their second outdoor game the next day, Family Day in Alberta, with a game between the Hitmen and the Regina Pats. The weather is normally a huge issue for these ill-timed games and I can’t wait to watch them try to deal with a chinook that blows through, jumping the temperatures into the teens and melting everything in sight.

The outdoor game was a good idea — now it’s as original as Coke 2.

Coca-cola thankfully retired that idea after a short run. The NHL really should do the same with the outdoor game.

jaldrich@bprda.wpengine.com

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