I'm sure I don't have to tell you too much about the 2009 NHL Winter Classic between the Blackhawks and Red Wings, held at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day. It was one of the most-covered events of that offseason, and brought a sellout crowd to the old ballyard. Now, with the NHL doing the "Stadium Series" with multiple outdoor games, they seem almost commonplace. But this was just the third outdoor NHL game and second Winter Classic, and so Wrigley Field seemed to be the center of the sports universe on that Thursday afternoon.
From my BCB recap of the game:
For me as a Cubs fan, the experience was surreal, seeing snow and ice and two large video screens (one of which was almost directly placed over my usual seat in the left-field bleachers) in my summertime baseball palace. And that is the reason the NHL staged this game in this venue. Today was not only a game to help put the Blackhawks back on the Chicago sporting map -- something it succeeded in, perhaps beyond McDonough's wildest dreams -- but it was also a coming-out party for the NHL. The high profile of Wrigley Field, the two large cities and Original Six NHL teams involved, will likely make this the highest-rated NHL telecast in the USA in decades, if not ever, and the good contest may, at last, get some casual fans back into the sport. (Say, how did that "card stunt" look on TV? It looked cool at the park, though I couldn't tell what we were all spelling out. I got a card that was red on one side, blue on the other.) It's already done so for me, and though the Blackhawks were dominated today, there is no doubt that they have talent, will (barring an unforeseen collapse) make the playoffs, and once that happens, who knows how far things can go? The weather cooperated -- it was cloudy, which helped for visibility, and the temperature of 30 degrees wasn't that much colder than several recent Cubs Opening Day games (for comparison's sake, the average temperature of the last 20 home openers is 44 degrees, and that includes the strike-delayed April 28, 1995 opener when it was 61 degrees). The sun tried to poke through the clouds late in the afternoon, but by then the angle of the sun wouldn't have caused too many shadows even if it had blazed through brightly. The wind was a bit strong, flapping the flags on the scoreboard (not standing flags as they would be during the baseball season, they appeared to be flags with Winter Classic logos and a couple with sponsor logos -- that sponsor, incidentally, slapped logos on the back of the penalty box, which blocked part of the near-side view), and thus I was doubly lucky to be in a seat behind the first-base on-deck circle, which not only gave a nice view for the $75 price, but was blocked from the wind. Since all seats were reserved, they didn't restrict people without bleacher tickets from going into the bleachers; I took a walk around before the game. The view from my regular seat in the LF corner would have been pretty good, and if you were high enough in the corners of the bleachers, you also had a pretty good view for $75.
The Blackhawks lost the game 6-4, but eventually had a fine season, their first 100-point season in 16 years, and made it to the conference finals for the first time in 14 years, leading up to a Stanley Cup championship the following season.
Two days after the game, they opened up the rink to the public for skating. I hadn't been on skates in probably 40 years, but I wasn't about to miss that opportunity. Skating on a hockey rink with Wrigley as the backdrop -- one of the coolest things I've ever done.
Hopefully, a World Series won at Wrigley in the future will eclipse the Winter Classic as one of the top memories ever. Even so, the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field will always remain one of my favorite memories of my favorite ballpark.