When the last lockout, which resulted in a canceled season, ended in 2005, the National Hockey League knew that had to do whatever it took to win their fans back. While they implemented more fan-friendly rule changes including replacing the boring tie games with a shootout, there was another avenue they needed to conquer.
Inspired by an outdoor game, titled The Heritage Classic, in Edmonton between the hometown Oilers and Montreal Canadiens, the NHL decided to have an outdoor game to reinvigorate the interest of hockey fans in Canada and the United States, especially the latter.
Authors Russ Cohen and Michael del Tufo collaborate in The Winter Classic: The NHL’s Savior to provide a precise account of the progress of The Winter Classic which turned from, as the authors put it, “a simple outdoor game into a marketing juggernaut.” Cohen and del Tufo do an admirable job painting a picture of each of the first five Classics from the atmosphere outside the stadiums to the ambience inside, from the pre-game and post-game festivities to the actual game itself.
While the television ratings and ticket sales told the success of the annual event, the authors showed that success with their in-depth details. From what Cohen and del Tufo describe as the first-round playoff atmosphere of the inaugural game in 2008 to the Stanley Cup Final atmosphere in recent years, The Winter Classic has since transformed into a regular staple for a league initially so desperate to win back fan support after an unfathomable canceled season nearly eight years earlier.
Furthermore, Cohen and del Tufo do an outstanding job pointing out the improvements that have come with each passing installment of the big game. They provide us with in-depth interviews from arena workers and media personalities to players and coaches alike
Cohen and del Tufo have also done their homework, accurately researching both individual and team stats from the participants of each year to the history of the rivalries between the teams leading up to each installment of the Classic.
Since its inception on New Year’s Day 2008, The Winter Classic event has since expanded to showcase games featuring the alumni of the participating clubs, the AHL affiliates of said clubs as well as collegiate-level matchups. The big game has even inspired the return of The Heritage Classic in 2011 which pitted the host Calgary Flames against the Montreal Canadiens. In addition, the annual event even led to the birth of HBO’s 24/7 which the authors give an informative, in-depth analysis of each episode from the series’ commencement just prior to the 2011 installment of the Classic.
As informative as it was to read about what goes on in front of the camera, the authors provide its readers with a detailed analysis of what goes on behind the scenes. From experimenting with the pyrotechnics to testing the ice, the authors had the opportunity to see and feel it all giving their readers a sense of what it’s like to run the NHL’s most popular regular-season spectacle, with all due respect to the annual All-Star Game.
The Winter Classic: The NHL’s Savior provides interviews with some of the game’s biggest stars such as Pittsburgh Penguin captain Sidney Crosby and New York Ranger netminder Henrik Lundqvist to name just a couple. Cohen and del Tufo also provide informative insight from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the always-entertaining general of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke.
One such quote comes comes from Eric Lindros who fondly remembers of the 2012 game in Philadelphia, "It was a real long walk out from the dugout. The flames were going. Thinking I'm a little nervous for (Scott) Hartnell's hair. It was great feeling to come back."
The authors’ decision to have goaltender Ty Conklin write the foreword could not have been more appropriate given the netminder has played in not only the inaugural Heritage Classic in 2003 but the first two Winter Classics.
From generating the league’s biggest television audience for the inaugural event in over a decade to becoming such a popular topic of conversation on ESPN, whose hockey coverage is normally depleted at best, The Winter Classic has turned into a regular staple for a league which was so desperate to win back fan support after an unfathomable canceled season. Cohen and del Tufo provide an overall phenomenal reading experience with their unique insights and hockey expertise.
The Winter Classic: The NHL’s Savior is a must-have for any hockey fan this season. It’s a purchase well worth investing in.