NHL outdoor games benefiting league

Yankee Stadium to host second game Wednesday

Author: By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Jan 28 2014 07:47:18 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 29 2014 02:08:08 PM CST
Yankee Stadium hockey game, Rangers and Devils
NEW YORK -

The first two hockey games at Yankee Stadium are going to provide a pretty good case for why professional hockey should be played indoors in a climate-controlled arena.

They're also going to provide a pretty good case for the continuation of the Stadium Series and other outdoor games in the NHL.

The elements are likely to play as big a part in the outcome Wednesday night -- when the temperatures will drop into the teens by the time the New York Islanders and New York Rangers face off at 7:30 -- as they did Sunday, when the Rangers and New Jersey Devils were delayed 72 minutes by the glare of the sun before the Rangers routed the Devils 7-3 on an ice that both teams described as unsatisfactory.

"It was the worst ice I ever played hockey on," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who was lifted after allowing six goals in two periods.

"You'd think that a day like this, where it's below zero Celsius, so below 32 Fahrenheit, that you're talking about ideal conditions," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "You should be able to get (good) ice. And they had issues with the ice. I was surprised about that."

On Wednesday night, superstars such as Islanders center John Tavares and Rangers right winger Rick Nash may not see as much ice time as usual due to the frigid temperatures.

And even if the ice is better than it was Sunday, the odds are good Yankee Stadium will see another high-scoring affair because the starting goaltenders -- likely Evgeni Nabokov for the Islanders and Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers -- will be offered no protection from the cold.

"Some of the coaches I've talked to have talked about that -- about shift times and lung capacity (in the cold)," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said Tuesday. "It's going to have to be short shifts, utilize our bench and utilize our full lines all 60 (minutes). The toughest part is it's tough on the goalies, because they can't stay warm like everybody else."

It's a bit incongruous to play two key divisional games in such abnormal conditions: The second-place Rangers (59 points), fifth-place Devils (55 points) and last-place Islanders (50 points) are part of the seven-team jumble vying for two playoff spots behind the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.

But generally speaking, players and coaches are having too much fun participating in the attention-generating outdoor games to worry about the modifications they require or the implications they may have on the postseason race.

"Other than the outcome, it was one of the best hockey experiences I think any of us have had from (Saturday) through (Sunday)," Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said Sunday.

The Islanders began to absorb the experience Tuesday, when they held an hour-long practice at Yankee Stadium in the late afternoon before skating on the ice with family members and friends.

Afterward, the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium -- several times larger than the Islanders' cramped locker room at Nassau Coliseum -- was filled with players and their spouses, children and parents.

"It's obviously going to be different than indoors, but I'm not complaining," Islanders left winger Matt Martin said. "I'm so excited about this opportunity and playing in Yankee Stadium and playing in a game that I'll never forget, (a game) my family and everyone's family gets to be a part of."

Playing outdoors in January may not be the ideal hockey-playing weather, but it evokes an all-encompassing nostalgia that can only benefit the NHL, which remains a distant fourth on the American pro sports landscape.

The first outdoor game of the season, the Winter Classic at the University of Michigan, was played in front of an NHL-record 105,491. Anaheim and Los Angeles played in front of 54,099 fans at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night.

The Rangers and Devils played in front of a sellout crowd of 50,105 -- larger than any regular season crowd the Yankees have drawn in five years at the new Yankee Stadium.

The NHL announced Tuesday that the Islanders-Rangers game is a sellout, as well, and the two remaining outdoor games -- Pittsburgh-Chicago at Soldier Field on March 1 and the Heritage Classic a day later between visiting Ottawa and host Vancouver -- are also expected to draw capacity crowds.

"It's the way that the game originated," Islanders right winger Kyle Okposo said. "That's the way I grew up playing. So I'm excited to get back playing outside to bring up some of those memories."

The wild success of the six outdoor games this season -- just one less than the number played from 2003 through 2012 -- means the NHL is all but certain to continue the gimmick with increasing frequency in coming seasons.

At some point, saturation as well as frustration over losing a valuable point or two in unusual conditions may set in. But those are concerns for another day for those participating in, watching and overseeing the outdoor games.

"I don't have any problem with playing outdoors," Martin said. "And I hope to play many more games like this in the future."