If you could have wandered into one of the first owners’ meeting of the newly hatched National Hockey League back in 1917, and sat them down to a PowerPoint presentation of where the NHL is 100 years later (31 teams…franchises all over the United States…players from all over the world), the one thing those early owners would probably scratch their heads over the most are all the outdoor games the league holds.
They’d probably ask why go outdoors, when we’ve recently invented these fancy covered, heated arenas? You must be mad to want to sit outside for three hours, exposed to the unrelenting elements, watching a hockey game. Who’d want to do that?
Maybe a touch of madness is involved, but modern day hockey fans are more than happy to head to the great outdoors and enjoy a game. The NHL has been putting on these spectacles for the better part of a decade, and the thirst for them has not subsided.
What better way to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the NHL than to head to the capital city of Canada on Saturday, December 16th for an outdoor game between the Ottawa Senators and the visiting Montreal Canadiens. 100 years to the day that the original Sens and Habs met up in the same city on the first day of NHL action. For the record, the Canadiens emerged with a 7-4 win. These days, Montreal are looking more like the Montreal Wanderers, another “Original 4” team from that first season in 1917-18. The Wanderers lasted a grand total of 4 games before their arena burnt down, and they were finished as a franchise.
Okay, things aren’t that bad currently for the Canadiens, but they’re not all that good, either. The odds of grabbing a playoff spot are slim for the team, even though All-World goaltender Carey Price is now back from a mysterious prolonged absence, and in his first two starts, shutout the sad Sabres, and beat Columbus 3-1 thanks in large part to 37 saves.
The team they’ll face is also not currently exhibiting championship form. The Senators have tumbled to the lower reaches of the Eastern Conference, only five months after being one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final.
But the Outdoor Game is not about where the two teams are in the standings. It’s about where the two teams are on that evening. Outside. Under the stars. Or under clouds burdened with snow. Fans clinging to their hot chocolate, and other assorted beverages. Goaltenders with toques stretched over their helmets. Coaches resplendent in vintage jackets, and jaunty hats. Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight.
Because an outdoor hockey game is still magical. There’s something primal it taps into, even though less and less of us have actually strapped on the blades and played shinny outside. That hardly matters; the collective consciousness of hockey fans has wholeheartedly embraced the myth, and put up with frozen feet, wet seats, and long lineups for the facilities.
So while whether the Senators or Canadiens win that evening is important, the fact the game of hockey persists, and thrives, 100 years after the founding of the NHL is what is paramount. And listen to your mother; dress warmly!
Sirius XM NHL Network Radio Channel 91 will be dressed warmly for the NHL 100 Classic. Rob Simpson and Mick Kern will be on location beginning at 3 pm Eastern, as they get you set for the 7 pm Eastern game between the Senators and Canadiens.