By Allan Muir
If one outdoor hockey game each year is special, the NHL is banking that six is even better.
Multiple sources are reporting that the New York Rangers will skate in a pair of outdoor games next year at at Yankee Stadium. The Blueshirts will play the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 26 and the New York Islanders on Jan. 29.
The timing might seem odd, but it plays out as a genius act of coat-tailing. With the Super Bowl slated for the following weekend, the largest media contingent of the year will be descending on New York City that week. What better way to fill their downtime--and help promote the sport--than with a pair of hockey spectacles.
The games will complement a burgeoning outdoor schedule that already features the Red Wings and Maple Leafs facing off in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. Other matches in the works include Pittsburgh vs. Chicago on March 1 at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, along with the expected return of the Heritage Classic on March 2, when Vancouver will host Ottawa at BC Place. There also are reports that the Los Angeles Kings will to host the Anaheim Ducks at Chavez Ravine on Jan. 25.
You can expect cries of overkill from some corners, but the league is gambling that the public's appetite for these outdoor spectacles is nowhere close to being sated. Odds are they're right. You can bet the games will sell out and draw huge numbers on TV.
And that's why it's not just the paying public that's excited by this news. These games will provide the league a chance to soothe any ill will that lingers with sponsors in the wake of the lockout. NBC Sports, the network that invested heavily in the league almost two years ago to the day, will gain five new appointment dates on its schedule. There will be five new title sponsor deals, like the one that's worked out well for Bridgestone, and five new opportunities for the rest of the league's affiliates to line their coffers. We'll have more as the story develops.