Monday, April 10, 2017

Live and Outdoors its NHL Hockey!!

Well.... Last night was certainly depressing. After tying the game late it looked like the Sabres MIGHT give us a few more minutes of hockey to enjoy as we try to forget this season of misery. Instead, Tampa scored with a minute twenty-four to go and added an empty netter to salt the wounds. 

The Sabres managed to somehow do worse this year than they did last year and expectations were pretty brutally dashed by the way March and April played out. Still, there is always next year, and 2018 offers Sabres fans something especially fantastic in the form of a second Winter Classic game, this time against the New York Rangers. 

The first Winter Classic was a major spectacle and came as the Sabres were performing like the most dominant team in the NHL. Buffalo was flying high with players like Danny Briere, Chris Drury, and Ryan Miller and collectively we were all sensing the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately the President's Trophy winning season would be Buffalo's last taste of playoff glory and the team has struggled mightily in the last decade to gain any sort of traction. 

Regardless of how the Sabres do next season I'm excited for another Winter Classic game. The prospect of Buffalo playing in another Winter Classic got me interested in the history of outdoor hockey and I did a little research to find out a bit more on the history of outdoor hockey games. 

Originally hockey was played outdoors as there was no way to cool ice inside a building. Games were played on rivers, lakes, or in my case in a swamp by the train tracks. In 1875 the first indoor hockey game was held in Montreal at the Victoria Skating Rink. The game was a novelty act, more of an exhibition of the ice freezing technology. The game's announcement in the newspapers is particularly memorable. It reads:

A game of Hockey will be played at the Victoria Skating Rink this evening, between two nines chosen from among the members. Good fun may be expected, as some of the players are reputed to be exceedingly expert at the game. Some fears have been expressed on the part of intending spectators that accidents were likely to occur through the ball flying about in too lively a manner, to the imminent danger of lookers on, but we understand that the game will be played with a flat circular piece of wood, thus preventing all danger of its leaving the surface of the ice. Subscribers will be admitted on presentation of their tickets. 

Painting of the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Right away I have to wonder which hurts more a wooden puck or a rubber puck? Obviously a Shea Weber shot is going to make any wood puck disintegrate into splinters, but even if the puck wasn't atomized by a one-timer how bad would a wooden puck to the leg feel? 

Following the first exhibition at the Victoria Skating Rink indoor hockey grew in popularity until it was the most common method of playing the game. Outdoor hockey made a revival in 1924 at the Olympic Games in Chamonix, France where the Canadians unsurprisingly dominated the competition. Surprisingly, while America took the silver it was Great Britain that won the bronze medal beating Sweden of all countries. Even stranger the 1936 Winter Olympics saw the British take gold in hockey. 

The next major outdoor hockey game directly involved the NHL and occurred between 1953 and 1954. Late in 1953 Jack Adams, coach of the Detroit Red Wings, took some of his players into Michigan's Upper Peninsula on a goodwill tour. One of the stops the Wings made was at the Marquette Branch Prison. Dubbed the Alcatraz of the North, Marquette was an isolated and harsh prison, reserved for Michigan's most dangerous criminals. During the visit Emery Jaques the prison warden propositioned Jack Adams, asking if the coach would bring the Red Wings north to play an exhibition game at the prison. Initially Adams scoffed and told Jaques that if he could foot the bill for air-fare and accommodations that the Wings would come. To his surprise the warden came up with the money and on February 2nd, 1954 the Detroit Red Wings lined up against the Marquette Prison Pirates. 

With legends like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Terry Sawchuk playing the their prime the Wings quickly ran away with the game, establishing an 18-0 lead at the end of the first period. After that, several Red Wings, including Sawchuk were traded to the Pirates and an inmate centered the line of Howe and Lindsay. For the rest of the game nobody kept score and the players had fun with each other. Many of the prisoners were awed by the Red Wings as they'd only ever listened to the radio announcers describe the players and their abilities. To see them in the flesh was a spectacle most of the inmates likely carried until their deaths. 

Hopefully in 2018 fans of Buffalo Sabres hockey can see something spectacular when the Sabres play the Rangers. Hopefully the team has a breakthrough and makes the playoffs next year. Regardless of how things play out, the Sabres are certain to put on a show when hockey goes outdoors and the puck drops in New York City. 

The Red Wings at Marquette. Image from

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