Hello, old-time hockey

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Professional sports gimmicks fail more often than not (think Fox’s glowing hockey puck, Charley O. Finley’s orange baseballs and pro sports telecasts without announcers), but every now and again one catches the imagination.

Such is Thursday’s National Hockey League game between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings, to be played outdoors at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. And who better to have playing in a high profile event at one of pro sports’ most storied venues (even if it’s known for baseball) than two of the NHL’s so-called Original Six franchises?

The Blackhawks-Red Wings’ New Year’s Day matchup is a sequel to last year’s Winter Classic, the NHL’s first-ever outdoor game played in the US. 

More than 71,000 fans turned out at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium to see the Sabres and Penguins in a thriller that ended with Pittsburgh winning in a shootout, 2-1. Snow fell through much of the game, which proved a hit with players, fans and viewers.

It’s good to see an NHL game outside of the antiseptic atmosphere sometimes evident in newer arenas. Sure, it’s just one game in a long season, but watching players mix it up amid light flurries or being able to see their breath as they huff and puff on the bench following a shift change hearkens back to the days of kids playing hockey on frozen ponds and rivers.  

Where the Winter Classic succeeds most is in drawing in casual hockey fans, the ones who might not normally watch games during the regular season, or those who live in areas without franchises.

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