Today's one of the best days of the year for hockey fans, with this year's NHL Winter Classic being played between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium.
In fact, the match-up in Ann Arbor is just one of six outdoor games being played across the NHL this year, with other games taking place over the next few months in Vancouver, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Phoenix hockey fans, and hockey fans in general, should be pleased to see reports that the team's ownership has shown interest in hosting such a game.
Amid those reports of the Coyotes' interest in hosting the game, others immediately pooh-poohed the idea. Hockey fans have commented on plenty of news articles, forums, and social media against Phoenix hosting the game.
The comments include arguments that Phoenix isn't a storied franchise, it's not in a "traditional" hockey market, the team has attendance issues and previous ownership issues, the weather doesn't make sense for an outdoor game, and the concept of an outdoor game is meaningless to people in the American Southwest, since kids around here don't grow up playing outdoor hockey.
The answer to all of that is, so what?
It's pretty apparent that the league isn't concerned with most of those factors, considering there's a game between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks scheduled to take place in Dodger Stadium in a few weeks.
The games are more of a gimmick than they are an homage to the roots of North American hockey, and Phoenix would be a cool place for this gimmick. Let's take a look at a few of the factors:
- Ice conditions
Hockey fans will recall a few years ago in Pittsburgh, people were calling for an end to the Winter Classic as a whole due to poor ice conditions in the 2011 game, due to poor ice conditions, a result of relatively warm weather and rain.
The league and the Kings have made several assurances that the ice conditions won't be something to worry about. From the Kings' website:
The average high in January in Los Angeles is 68 and the average nighttime low is 48 degrees.
Translation? If we play the averages, on January 25 at Dodger Stadium we are slated to have one of the best settings for a hockey game imaginable. In fact, with a little luck, we'll have temperatures more pleasurable than a full NHL venue on a game night!
There have been lots of questions about ice conditions. Below is some more information . . .
- The NHL has the largest most advanced mobile ice-making system in the world.
- The plan is to make ice in the evening in L.A. as not to fight the sun.
- High-tech thermal blankets will cover the ice during the day to reflect the sun and heat.
- We are confident and the NHL has proved it is committed to making an NHL-caliber sheet of ice for all outdoor hockey games.
- Player safety and optimal playing conditions are a priority.
- There is an extended window of time for the game to be played in the event we need to administer ice maintenance.
- The league will consult regularly with the clubs and the NHLPA on playing conditions throughout the process.
Although temperatures in Phoenix did reach more than 80 degrees late last January, the average low temperatures at night in January -- when the game likely would be played -- are historically a couple degrees colder than Los Angeles.
So if it works in Los Angeles, it's likely going to work in Phoenix.
- The venue
These outdoor NHL games have been hosted in some of the most historic sports venues in North America, including Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway Park in Boston, and today's game at "The Big House" in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
According to an NHL.com report, "the most logical place" for the game in Phoenix would be at Chase Field, but it also mentions that the University of Phoenix stadium -- right next-door to the Coyotes' everyday home at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale -- also has a retractable roof.
Neither of those stadiums has very much history to it, compared to the aforementioned venues. We can see where Chase Field has appeal: It has some history, with the Diamondbacks winning the World Series in dramatic fashion there in 2001, it's a much better location for most people in the Valley, and don't forget, it has a pool. Has an NHL game ever been witnessed in-person from a pool?
We haven't seen any reports giving consideration to most storied stadium in Arizona that's truly an outdoor venue -- Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The retractable roofs at Chase Field and U of P are more like sunroofs, whereas Sun Devil Stadium's a full-on convertible, and it's been home to some legendary concerts and sporting events, including a Super Bowl.
If weather would be an issue, then that roof might be helpful. In addition Sun Devil Stadium's capacity is nearly 72,000, which is more than 20,000 more than Chase Field. That brings us to our next issue . . .
The Coyotes are notorious for having attendance that's the worst, or near the worst in the league. Even in the first year under new ownership, the Coyotes are still last in the NHL. It's not a complete case of hockey apathy, as some people like to claim. This year, the Arizona Cardinals had the sixth-lowest attendance in the NFL, the Phoenix Suns currently have the fourth-lowest attendance in the NBA, and the Arizona Diamondbacks had the ninth-lowest attendance in the MLB. Remember that Phoenix is the sixth-most populous city in the United States.
And we'd argue that the fans do exist, and they do show up. Coyotes tickets are regularly sold out for season-openers, and they have been sold out in every playoff game ever hosted in the desert. Games featuring the Chicago Blackhawks, or lesser-seen East Coast opponents like Boston or Washington, usually result in sellouts or near-sellouts.
However, the capacity at Jobing.com Arena is a little north of 17,000, whereas the capacity at Chase Field is a little more than 49,000. You probably couldn't say for sure if such a game would sell out, but with the right opponent, it certainly might.
To us, Chicago feels like the natural choice. Recall the 2012 playoffs match-up between the two, in which the first five games were decided by overtime winners. And lest we forget former Yotes winger Raffi Torres' hit on the Hawks' Marion Hossa during that series:
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It's a rivalry that's been growing year by year, and there are many, many Chicago transplants in the Phoenix area, either permanently, or during the winter months.
Unfortunately, none of this stuff is up to us. All we can do is watch today's Winter Classic, and the rest of this year's outdoor games, and wish it were the Coyotes.