It ended with Sidney Crosby as the sixth shooter to fumble the puck toward the goalie through the bad ice, slush and snow that was the rink at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was history, or so said the NHL, as the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first outdoor game in the U.S. It is not very surpising that it was the first, as the game was big for marketing but not big for the actual game.
The numerous stoppages to fix the ice, zamboni it, fix the net moorings and other maitinence issues in addition to the outpour of snow and wind from the heavens led to a choppy game, both literally and figuretively. But while the players were freezing, falling, tripping and losing the puck, the 70,000 fans that filled the home of the Buffalo Bills were enjoying themselves in true winter fashion. They did not mind the driving snow or low 20s temperature. They were too busy standing, cheering and watching hockey in the largest masses they had ever experienced. The noise level was through the roof, or lack thereof, and the excitement level was kept up during the entire game. The game was full of memories for all those who played in backyard rinks as children, or so Don Emerick told me. All that is great, but was it an NHL game or an NHL show?
Professional hockey is not played on ice on wood planks on top of grass, nor outdoors, nor in the driving snow and wind. Today we got a reminder of why that is, as all of these elements led to as tedious of a game to watch as it was to play. There was no flow, the puck was on edge every time you blinked, the scoring chances were few and the problems were many. It is a sport that should be played outdoors for fun and indoors for the chips, perhaps an outdoor exhibition game would make more sense hockey-wise, though not at all marketing-wise.
But the goal was accomplished for Bettman. The hype generated by this overrated game earned publicity and surely many TV viewers. The game went the full distance and advertised the shootout. Sidney Crosby was in the spotlight, earning most of the replay time and doing his job to market the game with a few nifty plays. Yes, the average American may actually have been interested when the word "hockey" was mentioned today, and that is great. It is great for the fans who made the trip to see the game live and experience the atmosphere. And it was great for the players to be a part of this "historic" game. But everybody else was wondering why they took three hours to watch just another regular, if not below average, NHL game.
He closed in on Miller, gathered the puck and slid it through the Buffalo goalie's legs. The fans in the stands groaned. The Penguins celebrated. And Bettman jumped out of his pants because, "Dear me, I do believe Crosby scored the winner on national TV!"
But did this game "score" with us?