By Stu Hackel
After months of buildup and promotion, the Winter Classic is finally upon us. It is, of course, nothing more than Game 569 of the regular season schedule, worth the same two points in the standings as any other game — or (sigh) two for the winner and one for the loser if it ends in a regulation tie.
But the exposure and popularity this unique game has brought to hockey during the past four years can’t — and shouldn’t — be denied. For that we must credit the NHL’s partnership with NBC. Their deal may be far less lucrative for the league’s teams than the ones enjoyed by other major pro sports, but it’s the best the league has ever had, especially because
NBC and its offshoots respect the product and help create new ways to expose it.
The same can be said for the NHL’s deal with HBO which, through its”24/7″ series, provides an unprecedented look at the run-up to the game. Nothing has ever come close to bringing viewers inside the NHL as it really is, looks and sounds.