SUN Hockey Pool

A roaring outdoor success

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Know this: As sure it snows in Buffalo in the wintertime, the NHL will be playing outdoors again.

All that is left to be determined is where and when?

How, after all, on the heels of two very successful ventures, in Edmonton four years ago and Buffalo two days ago, can the league, ah, close the door on the idea of playing outside again?

Sure there is a risk the weather won't co-operate, sure there was great concern in the days leading up to the Winter Classic in Buffalo.

But the buzz that was generated in those days leading up to and including New Year's Day, the attention the league garnered from playing outside and showcasing their best player is hard to manufacture.

Remember, too, they sold more than 70,000 tickets in 42 minutes. They had national network coverage on both sides of the border. Indeed, NBC was a driving force in playing another outdoor game, which obviously had storybook qualities, from the perfect temperature to the snow flurries to the game being decided on the final shot of a shootout by Sidney Crosby.

The game produced the best NHL regular-season ratings in 10 years in the United States.

After all that, how do you not do it again? As both a business venture and a spectacle, it was a huge success, a perfect day for the NHL.

OK, so the league will take some time to deliberate over this most recent venture, as it should, to debate whether the timing was right for instance, and, a cynic would suggest, not everything was perfect about the Winter Classic.

There were issues with the ice, there were more delays than anyone would have preferred -- ice repair man Dan Craig got more TV time than Crosby -- and the quality of play is different, no question.

But that is also part of what playing outdoors is all about, battling the elements. It is part of the charm, if you will, and, eye-witnesses say few if any among the close to 72,000 at Ralph Wilson Stadium left their seats.

From the tailgate parties to the three-star announcement, fans had a grand time. And when was the last time anyone was unanimous with that kind of assessment of an NHL game?

So the only points to debate are when should they hold the next game and where?

As for timing, there are some who would argue they should play an outdoor game every year. Others would suggest the four years that separated the Heritage Classic and the Winter Classic made it special by keeping it unique.

It says here, try it again next winter, then review it. Long-term commitments don't have to be made.

As for next year, some have suggested having a game a week before the all-star festivities in Montreal, but it is hard to argue with New Year's Day, and two outdoor games in the same season might be one too many. Montreal is a good fit for a number of reasons.

First, next year they are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the franchise, so that works. Selling tickets will clearly not be an issue, either, at Molson Stadium.

The only concern, though, could be the weather. Montreal in late January or early February can be bitterly cold. Too cold. And, like we said, New Year's Day was obviously a day that worked.

There also have been suggestions the NHL should be looking at staging the outdoor games in bigger markets, such as New York or Chicago, to maximize exposure in the U.S. and, by extension, profits.

While the potential does exist for the reward to be greater on a larger stage, the potential for failure is greater, too.

In the bigger centres, there are more media distractions and more entertainment alternatives.

Are there, for instance, 70,000 hockey fans in New York that would attend an outdoor game? Not sure, although it would be spectacular if it worked.

It might be a safer proposition to play in Detroit, say, because the proximity to the border is key, or Philadelphia, which is a hockey-mad area, or even Boston, which is mad about hockey if not entirely the Bruins.

Whatever, that is for the deep thinkers at the NHL to figure out, the where and the when.

What isn't up for debate is whether they should do it again.


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