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Blackhawks topple Penguins in Soldier Field’s wintry wonderland

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The Stadium Series game will go a long way in redefining Jonathan Toews' 'Captain Serious' persona, while also exposing the Pens' defensive issues. (David E. Klutho/SI)

The Stadium Series win will help redefine Jonathan Toews’ ‘Captain Serious’ persona. (David E. Klutho/SI)

By Allan Muir

Here are nine quick thoughts after Chicago’s 5-1 win over Pittsburgh in the finale of the 2013-14 NHL Stadium Series:

• When NHL execs pitched an expanded outdoor schedule for this season and planted a Pittsburgh-Chicago match at Soldier Field less than a week after the Olympics, their expectations couldn’t possibly have exceeded the reality these two teams delivered tonight.

If there was a bounce to be generated after Sochi, this event delivered everything that might hook the casual fan. From the magical snow-globe images to the marquee teams to 17 Olympic heroes, including Team Canada captains Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, this was as thrilling as a 5-1 rout can be.

I’ll admit the lousy conditions took me right out of this year’s Winter Classic but the challenges of inch-deep snow that coated the sheet at Soldier Field seemed more charming, or at least more visually appealing, than the hard, bouncy ice that plagued the big game at the Big House. Passes left a wake like a cruise ship and skidded to an early halt like that high-tech puck in the Bridgestone ads. Every hard stop sent a sheet of snow cascading into the air. Even the sound of the blades chittering across the ice was different, somehow more exotic. This, finally, was real pond hockey. The elements were an additional player, not an impediment, and the game was better for them.

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  • Published On Mar 02, 2014
  • Heritage Classic outdoor game can go inside within 20 minutes

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    BC Place in Vancouver will host the NHL outdoor Heritage Classic game.

    Indoors or outdoors? Rain and B.C. Place’s retractable roof make that the question. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

    By Tim Newcomb

    The deluge of heavy winter weather in the Vancouver region—more than 10 inches of snow in some areas—may have come a week too early in terms of creating some “atmosphere” for Sunday’s Heritage Classic at retractable-roof B.C. Place. But organizers of the NHL’s sixth and final outdoor game of the season certainly prefer a snowless day to one that is filled with rain. After all, rain will mean closing the roof and turning a game that has been hyped for its historic link to the 1915 Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Millionaires and Ottawa Senators into nothing more than an oversized indoor regular-season contest, albeit one with sweet throwback uniforms.

    Setting up home ice for the Canucks in B.C. Place, which has undergone a $500 million-plus renovation since the 2010 Olympics, demanded the tightest turnaround of all the NHL’s outdoor games. Crews couldn’t start building the rink and making ice until the B.C. Home + Garden Show wrapped up on Sunday, Feb. 23. And the NHL will have to get out fairly quick after the 1 p.m. (Pacific time) start time on Sunday, with the MLS’ Whitecaps home opener slated for Saturday, March 8.

    NEWCOMB: The Making of Stadium Hockey | GALLERY: NHL’s outdoor games

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  • Published On Feb 28, 2014
  • The scene: Yankee Stadium for Rangers-Devils NHL outdoor game

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    Yankee Stadium hosts an NHL outdoor game between the Rangers and Devils.

    The historic House That Ruth Built hosted 50,105 fans for its first NHL game. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

    By John Rolfe

    The second of the NHL’s four Stadium Series outdoor games featured an installment of the Battle of the Hudson, with New York’s Broadway Blueshirts heading north to the Bronx for a little game of shinny against the Devils, their neighboring rivals from New Jersey. This event promised to be more like this year’s frozen, snowy Winter Classic in Ann Arbor than Saturday night’s tilt at balmy Dodger Stadium. The temperatures hovered around 20 degrees or below for the duration of the afternoon with the wind chill made it feel like a brisk five. Some snow flurries added to the ambience, though the start of the game was delayed by sun glare that NHL officials said jeopardized the saftety of the players. Here’s a selection of tweets, photos and other wonderment from the Rangers’ 7-3 victory. The recap and box score is here.

    BAUMGAERTNER: Gretzky’s influence felt in LA
    NEWCOMB: The making of Stadium hockey
    GALLERY: NHL’s outdoor games through the years

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  • Published On Jan 26, 2014
  • Beach volleyball, music highlight NHL’s outdoor game in Los Angeles

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    A rendering of the final look for Dodger Stadium's outdoor game on Jan. 25.

    A rendering of the final look for Dodger Stadium’s outdoor game on Jan. 25.

    By Tim Newcomb

    If you like a little beach volleyball with your ice hockey, you’ll feel right at home in Dodger Stadium on Saturday night.

    For the second of the NHL’s six outdoor games this season, and the first in league’s new Stadium Series, a rink has been set up in L.A.’s 51-year-old major league ballpark for the game between the Kings and the Ducks. The game will be California’s first-ever NHL outdoor game, as well as the league’s first al fresco regular season tilt played west of the Mississippi River. Chavez Ravine is also the southern-most location for such an event.

    But this venue’s arrangement will look a lot different than the Jan. 1 cold weather Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

    MORE: The Making of Stadium Hockey | GALLERY: NHL outdoor games through the years

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  • Published On Jan 24, 2014
  • Taking the NHL Outside: The making of stadium hockey

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    By Tim Newcomb

    It doesn’t take a meteorologist to know that a sheet of NHL ice outdoors — in stadiums that seat more than 100,000, no less — offers both an aesthetically pleasing visual effect and plenty of challenging weather questions. Just ask NHL ice guru Dan Craig.

    The league has expanded its outdoor program from one or two games per year to six across five North American stadiums — including Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles — presenting Craig with his biggest and most difficult job yet. The scariest part? All of his efforts in the widely varying locales will be at the mercy of the elements, which will ultimately determine the final quality of the ice.

    GALLERY: The NHL’s Outdoor Games

    The 2014 outdoor series begins with the Maple Leafs against the Red Wings at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Jan. 1. Craig tells Sports Illustrated that he’s hoping for a “party house,” and he may get one. “Michigan, because it is the Big House, it will be absolutely amazing to stand out on that field and have 110,000 screaming fans,” he says. “I can’t imagine that, as a hockey player. They will get jacked right up.”

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  • Published On Dec 31, 2013
  • 13 must-watch games to circle on your NHL calendar

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    Now that both teams could establish for the Eastern Conference crown next season, Canadiens-Leafs will be must-watch hockey. [Claus Andersen/Getty Images].

    Eastern contenders, Canadiens vs. Leafs will be must-watch hockey. [Claus Andersen/Getty Images].

    By Allan Muir

    The best hockey games are rarely the ones we anticipate, but this year’s schedule, released today by the NHL, offers a baker’s dozen that are worth circling on your calendar right off the hop.

    Here are the games we’re already making plans to watch:

    Oct. 1: Washington at Chicago
    The newly minted champions open the season with a banner-raising ceremony and a visit from the league’s MVP, Alex Ovechkin.

    Oct. 1: Toronto at Montreal
    Season opener … the Forever Rivals … Don Cherry is back!

    Oct. 6: Vancouver at Calgary
    This will be the first regular-season chance to see what’s become of the Saddledome. Here’s hoping they’re able to pull off a miracle and have it ready in time for the home opener.

    Nov. 5: Dallas at Boston
    And after that game, Tyler Seguin finally gets to show his new teammates all the coolest places to hang out in Boston.

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  • Published On Jul 19, 2013
  • Canucks to host Senators outdoors (maybe) in 2014 Heritage Classic

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    Vancouver's BC Place will host the NHL's 2014 Heritage Classic

    BC Place’s retractable roof could come in handy for hockey in rainy Vancouver. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    The long rumored return of the Heritage Classic is now official.

    The NHL announced Wednesday morning that the Vancouver Canucks will host the Ottawa Senators at BC Place on Sunday, March 24, at 2 p.m.

    With this announcement, all six of the league’s 2014 outdoor games have been confirmed. Well, all six games that could be played outdoors.

    The league’s press release pointed out this will be the first game played in a facility with a retractable roof, and that’s probably a point worth remembering. BC Place, best known for hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, had the roof installed after the Games because Vancouver tends to get more than its share of rain. A downpour led the league to delay the start of the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh by six hours, and while playing under the lights made for a great visual, that late start wreaked havoc on the NHL’s broadcast partners. It’s nice to have the roof option in the back pocket, then.

    Photos: NHL’s outdoor games through the years

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  • Published On Jul 10, 2013
  • Source: Rangers to play Islanders, Devils at Yankee Stadium in 2014

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    Yankee Stadium will feature a bit more ice next season when it plays host to two NHL matchups. (John Iacono/SI)

    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.

  • Published On Apr 16, 2013
  • Dodger Stadium may be hosting an outdoor NHL game in 2014

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    The Big House in Ann Arbor will be hosting the 2014 Winter Classic, but Dodger Stadium may get an outdoor game of its own next year. (Harry How/Getty Images)

    By Allan Muir

    On the morning that the NHL confirmed the details for the 2014 Winter Classic, rumors started flying about additional outdoor games…and one gained immediate traction.

    Moments after NHL COO John Collins spoke at the Winter Classic presser about the possibility for additional outdoor games to be added to the schedule as soon as next season, outspoken player agent Allan Walsh tweeted that a “deal is done” for Dodger Stadium to host an event in 2014.

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  • Published On Apr 07, 2013