Maybe Pause the Stadium Series…and Not Just Because of the Jerseys

Look– I’m all for bullshit cash-grabs and if I could find a way to make it happen in my life more– I would. On an unrelated note, I have a Patreon. But the Stadium Series and most of the outdoor games are getting too much for too little a payoff and too much ridicule for the optics.

Essentially, the NHL has made the Stadium Series game their version of MLB’s Turn-Ahead-The-Clock and it’s embarassing. A week or so ago, the Avalanche’s jerseys leaked and last night– Icethetics got the Kings uniform design. And boy…are they terrible.

But much more than the horrific jerseys, the legs on outdoor games seemed to have tapered off. Outside of the place hosting the event, the luster around the league’s fanbases have been dampened from the boom of the mid-10s of all the outdoor games possible. While I do enjoy the Winter Classic game, I’m still in the camp that the All-Star Game should be the outdoor game, as it would rotate a lot more and more areas would want to bid for it since they wouldn’t need an updated arena, while also having all the stars of the league being able to be out on the ice in the shiny game they talk about in interviews leading up to the event.

Plus, we all know that the NHL is the one who sets these prices, they set the venues, and rather than pull from two fan bases, you’d think they’d want to pull from more for a special event and make it even more special for the fans who come from far and wide to enjoy the All-Star Weekend. The idea of a game like this being for points has always been odd given the sometimes less than ideal situations Mother Nature brings to the game, but in the ASG; that’s not an issue at all.

The fact that we have three outdoor games this year is amazing– especially considering I didn’t hear much about the game in Regina, the Winter Classic has some buzz to it, but we’ll have to see how it goes as we get closer to New Year’s Day; while this game has had some fanfare with the game being held properly inside Air Force Academy, but who knows how much people will care once game day shows up.

Wu-Tang said it best when they said, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me, CREAM get the money; dolla, dolla bills y’all.” It’s a statement that I’m sure the NHL executives use as a mantra when planning out these games and locations, but there’s time where you have to step back, realize the golden goose may need some retooling and time to rejuvenate itself, and go back to the drawing board with this whole idea.

That said, the jersey market will be booming in 20 years– much like the Kings’ “Burger King” jersey, the Ducks’ “Wild Wing” jersey, and the Islanders’ “Fisherman” jersey— when people want this tackiness back en vogue.

Battle of Atlanta Kicks Off Specialty Games for 2019-20

In light of another Chicago Blackhawks outdoor game, the NHL revealed locations for some of their specialty games coming up for the 2019-20 season.

First, the Heritage Classic will come back and take place in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 26. In what I’ll be calling “The Battle of Atlanta” the former Atlanta Flames will take on the former Atlanta Thrashers– with the Calgary Flames taking on the Winnipeg Jets. It’ll be the fifth Heritage Classic and first since 2016 in Winnipeg. With both teams on the rise in their divisions, it should prove to be an interesting match-up, especially early in the season.

Second, the NHL put forth next year’s Winter Classic, but this time in Dallas’s Cotton Bowl, as the Dallas Stars will host and unnamed opponent– which, if it’s not the Minnesota Wild, it’ll be a huge narrative disrupting event. Surprising that it’s not being held in JerryWorld at AT&T Stadium, as it would go with the NHL wanting a big venue for these events.

St. Louis will be the 2020 All-Star Game host for the third time (1970 and 1988 being the prior ones) through the weekend of January 24th until the 26th. We’ll be waiting with bated-breathe to see if Nelly and the St. Lunatics show up with Fred Brathwaite like they did in the “Welcome to Atlanta” remix.

Finally, the NHL also announced another Stadium Series game at a military academy, with the Colorado Avalanche hosting a game at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. Another game with no opponent, but hopefully the NHL will keep getting closer and closer to their goal of holding a game at West Point after going through two other military academies already.

Is there one better than the other?? Do you even care about the amount of outdoor games anymore?? Leave a comment or something to let me know….or don’t, I get paid the same either way.

Golden Homecoming for Maryland’s Haley Skarupa

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Haley Skarupa/ Photo by Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl)

The US Women’s National Team has been on a non-stop media tour since winning the country’s first gold medal in 20 years. For defender Haley Skarupa, she says that it started to hit her of this accomplishment on the flight back to the US.

“I was thinking about it from our flight back from Korea,” Skarupa remembered during media availability Saturday night in Annapolis. “It was the first time it started to sink in that, ‘Wow, we’re going back to the United States bringing our country a gold medal.’ You can’t put words to that experience. You’re kinda going non-stop, but it’s good.”

The Rockville, Maryland native played in all five games for the US, though she did not register a point during the tournament, helped the defense for the US keep a co-tournament low of five goals against during the Olympics. Saturday night at the NHL Stadium Series game in Annapolis was a sort of homecoming for Skarupa, who was a Capitals fan when she was growing up.

“It’s awesome to come back here,” said Skarupa. “I was going to come back and watch this game regardless with my family and friends, but it’s awesome to come back here with my teammates and bring home a gold medal and show it to my family and friends.”

One of the last moments of the celebration of the gold medal was the fact that two flags were on the ice were the USA flag and the flag of Maryland. It was brought on the ice by Skarupa’s former teammates from the Washington Pride.

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Kelly Sherman, Haley Skarupa, and Kat Mackey/ Photo by Kush Sidhu

“Two of my best friends (Kelly Sherman and Kat Mackey) literally flew in the day before the game,” Skarupa said. “I didn’t know they brought the flag– it was so dang cool to see that. I brought it down, took a picture with it and it was so crazy to bring a piece of home out there with me. I love the flag it’s great. It’s so much cooler than all the other ones.”

While Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic is without a professional women’s team, the game has been growing in the girls’ ranks. Ranging from U12 to U19, the DC, Maryland, and Virginia (AKA the DMV) area has been starting to grow with the influx of girls picking up the sport– something that may rise from the USA winning gold.

“The sport has come a long way in this area,” explained Skarupa. “It used to be you play boys’ hockey until you’re in high school. Nowadays, there’s so many girls’ teams in the area. At the clinic, there was over 200 girls register from the DMV area. It’s awesome and really exciting. To see how far it’s come since I’ve been playing has been really incredible.”

Despite not playing on a girls’ team until she was in her teens, Skarupa relished the challenge of playing on the boys’ roster. It’s something she said that was fairly invaluable to her development to where she is today.

“I loved playing against the boys,” remember Skarupa. “They challenge you, they’re aggressive, and they’re ruthless. I played until I was 12 against the boys and then my brother and his friends out in the driveway. Getting beat up by the boys really helps you in the long run. Getting to prove the boys wrong is a good feelings.”

The Rockville native doesn’t forget her roots. She said she had numerous people coming up to here this week from people who went to pre-school with her to old teachers from Wooten High School. She also credits former Capital Jeff Halpern (and to an extent his Astro Donuts store) for helping her on her way to development.

“Jeff Halpern helped me throughout my career,” mentioned Skarupa. “We both skated through the same power-skating coach, Wendy Marco and Cold Rush and he became a coach there. Skating with him helped push me, too. He’s a great role model for this area with his success and how he gives back to the community.”

While she is riding high now, Skarupa is also taking the future into account with a clearer head. She said that she’s taking it one day at a time and while there’s not a team there and Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis hasn’t talked to her about one coming through– she believes the area should be rewarded with a professional team sooner rather than later.

“In the future, women’s pro hockey should expand to this area,” according to Skarupa. “With all the girls that play here and all the interest, there’s a huge opportunity for women’s hockey in this area.”

On the Topic Of the Annapolis Stadium Series Game

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The atmosphere outside the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium was electric. Fans from all over were getting into the spirit of the game, intermingling in the parking lot tailgates, helping each other gets lasting memories of their time at an outdoor event, and some making a weekend out of it like some Toronto fans who watched the Raptors/Wizards Friday and went to the Stadium Series game on Saturday. It was an amazing time.

From the time they stepped onto the ice– especially with the Maple Leafs glowing white jerseys against an off-white ice, the fine faithful of both teams found were bouncing around– probably to stay warm. With the midshipmen “manning the rails” of the aircraft carrier that surrounded the rink, to the fans interacting with the anthems, to the F/A-18F Super Hornets going overhead, the pomp and circumstance matched the excitement.

With the Capitals getting out to an early lead and keeping it throughout helped the fans stay happy in the frigid, windy temperatures, as well as a power outage at the 10-minute mark of the third period. The players seemed unaffected as well– especially with the ice, which many Capitals players were saying was the best home-ice they’ve played on this season.

“It was a blast, it was really fun,” mentioned Matt Niskanen post-game. “The conditions were great. I don’t think the wind was a factor, the ice was great. Even with the lights going out, the fans were still singing and having fun. It was a great experience of everyone. We’ll remember this one.”

But let’s not let the joy go all to our heads on this one.

There’s plenty to clean-up, especially since there were only 29,516 in attendance, which is the lowest of all-time in outdoor games. Could this be the luster finally wearing off?? I don’t think so– many people who had been to outdoor games before were happy enough to be there. Some claim apathy of giving a team extra money for tickets when they haven’t been past the second round in a dog’s age.

Another factor could have been the lack of advertising to the general populous. Many people I’ve talked to around town didn’t even know there was an outdoor game going on. There wasn’t a sign to be seen, wasn’t a promotion to be found in the area– which may not have made it a total sell-out, but could have peaked interest enough for people to talk about it and then maybe buy up the last tickets to be a part of something unique to the area for once.

Then you get to the game, which was covered as well as you’re going to cover it when all the hurdles were in the way. Yet, when NBC, the EXCLUSIVE rights holders to the NHL in the US, cuts away from the game to put it on NBCSN because they need to get to local news and then Saturday Night Live. There’s only three more years left in this deal with the NHL and NBC and maybe– just maybe– the NHL can look at this happening constantly to the NHL on NBC (remember the Senators/Sabres/Kentucky Derby fiasco??) and perhaps either get a better deal elsewhere or write a better contract to make sure they doesn’t keep constantly happening.

And let’s not forget the timing of the game– March. It’s after the trade deadline, right in the sprint to the playoffs and you’re putting two big points up there and hoping Mother Nature cooperates. Luckily– outside of the wind– it did for this one, but the later these outdoor games keep happening, the more risky it gets for things being postponed and such. There was worries that this game would have been pushed to Sunday– which would have been hell for the Caps, who were to fly out on Monday for their last west coast trip.

I understand there’s a lot of consideration that goes into these bids and there’s a lot of gaps that had to be filled. I’m thankful the NHL was able to have a game in Maryland for the first time since November 1997 (RIP Capital Centre), but it could have been so much more around the area if more effort was put in it to promote this game– not just in the area, but around the NHL. Just because you do an advertising blitz on the NHL Network a week out from the game doesn’t mean you did all you could to hype it up.

But to the fans out there– thank you for making the game a success to me. The energy, the reactions, the fact you were out in the elements and enjoying every minute of it was awesome to see and awesome to take part in.

Despite it being the lowest attendant outdoor game since the format started. Despite NBC cutting the National coverage with four minutes to go in the game. Despite the wind, despite the power outage, despite the timing of the game in the year, despite the advertising– or lack thereof. The fans made the atmosphere better for it. The NHL needs to realize this and maybe start listening more attentively to them when they speak up on topics to better the league.

Annapolis Stadium Series Game Gets Logo….Finally

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The Caps and Maple Leafs Stadium Series game has some kind of logo identity, as the Caps revealed the logo for the game, as well as the logo the teams will use of the event this afternoon during the Navy/SMU football game. Both John Carlson and Matt Niskanen were on-hand during the unveiling for the game happening on March 3rd.

Of course, I’m on the side of this game not being one of the top priorities of the NHL until it happens (much like the games this weekend in Sweden), but I’m glad it is happening in my home state.

From the NHL:

The 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ logo builds upon the legacy of the NHL Stadium Series brand, drawing from the rich history of the Naval Academy, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and Navy inspired indicia. A focal element of the mark is a stoic and proud eagle that is widely used throughout the graduating class plaques that adorn the stadium. Enclosed in the eagle’s wings are the iconic archways of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and at the top right of the mark, the north star – a subtle nod to the Navy brand. A bold and strong military inspired typeface was incorporated that can be seen on Naval ships. The overall color palette of navy and gold is directly tied back to the U.S. Naval Academy. At the base of the mark is an anchor, one of the most iconic of Naval symbols. The mark will serve as a regal and patriotic symbol of the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ and the events surrounding it. The 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ logo was designed by NHL Creative Services.

We’ll see what the jerseys bring, but the event logo is spot on and very localized. For all the grief I give the NHL, their logos for their events have that touch of local flavor, which is a nice thing to see. I wonder what the jerseys will look like for the Caps (because the Leafs usually have the same thing over and again), but as a whole– it’s decent.

The one thing I’m really just ticked about is how they went about rolling this thing out. Granted, it’s Veterans Day weekend, so it’s a nice way to put that out there– but why not have the release in a solo press conference like everyone else?? When I went to the Calgary Heritage Classic event in 2011, it was in the summer all by itself at McMahon Stadium, and all the media was there to cover it. Sure– the coverage in Canada and Maryland/DC isn’t really comparable, but how about you try to give the area a chance to give a damn about this big event on the NHL schedule??

With stage one done, now the race for the jerseys and time to see how the Caps and Leafs will be able to make this game bigger than it’s getting press for.

Why Annapolis Will Be This Year’s Forgotten Outdoor Game

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When the Capitals hosted the Maple Leafs on October 17th, there was something missing in the lead up. Sure, there was the hype about Ovechkin and Matthews and what bad blood remained from the playoffs the previous spring; but something else that’s further down the line.

There was no official announcement of the Stadium Series in Annapolis this March, which will have both these teams facing off against each other at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. Both teams had two days off leading up to the game, which was enough time to get a press conference on the day before the game to officially announce the game and have all the dignitaries and key players there to celebrate the first NHL game in Maryland since the Capitals left Landover in 1998.

Sure, it is what it is, but this is a bit concerning as this will probably be the forgotten outdoor hockey game like how Winnipeg was the forgotten outdoor game last year.

Considering the big deal that the NHL made leading up when the idea of the military academies being involved in the outdoor game things, not to mention the fact that the Maple Leafs and Auston Matthews facing off against the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin– two highly marketable personalities with two markets that are fairly die-hard in their support of their teams. You’d think there’d be something to be brought up, especially since the two teams won’t play each other again in the area until the game itself.

Now, I get it– the idea of outdoor games have definitely been oversaturated, especially when in 2014 they had six outdoor games in the NHL alone. It’s a concept that has been done and overdone and maybe, just maybe, this could be the breaking point for the NHL when it comes to having multiple games.

That said, if you’re going to make a big deal out of hockey being played at the military academies– why not actually put some marketing and some kind of hype behind it. If you’re going to put two of your biggest stars on that kind of stage, why not make some half-assed effort?? Of course, this is the NHL, so when have they ever done something conventional. They seem to want to fly some Leafs players in to do this rather than make it a little bit more reasonable by getting it over with.

When all is said and done, this game will happen on a Saturday night in early March. People in the area will be in attendance, as well as some from Toronto. People watching on TV will care because these teams will be in the playoff hunt, but not from the outdoor experience because they’ve seen that before and would have seen it twice already this season.

It’s a shame that this game will be the forgotten outdoor game of the season. Annapolis deserves better backing. The fans in this experience deserve better backing for this event. This shouldn’t be a throw away, but the NHL seems to have mortally wounded the golden goose of the outdoor game. It will make money, but could be made into so much more.

Darlington: NASCAR’s Winter Classic

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It’s Darlington weekend coming up in NASCAR, which means the most gimmicky regular season race is happening in full-force. To appeal to the nostalgia crowd, Darlington Speedway decided that since NASCAR moved the Southern 500 back to Labor Day weekend; they would make it a “Throwback Weekend” where drivers and teams alike can really get into the old-time racing attitude and have fun with their paint schemes and their look and really by into that “Good Ol’ Boy” mentality that some think the modern NASCAR has been missing.

While it has been great to see the old paint schemes from yesteryear, the tributes to lesser known racers, the old-time broadcast effects, and the antics that the drivers put on; it’s still getting very, very stale very, very quickly. In fact, a lot of the teams aren’t trying anymore. There’s three cars this Sunday that look like they have the exact same red-white-and-blue scheme (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.Danica PatrickClint Bowyer), the #3 and #31 have just about the same paint scheme, and like always– the #43 is going to have a Richard Petty STP scheme on the track.

The Darlington Weekend is becoming like the NHL’s Winter Classic in some aspects. While the heart is in the right place for a different kind of feel, as it keeps going year-after-year, the whole vibe to the thing wears off. We all know who’s going to be there, you can be assured of what they’ll look like, and while it’s well-hyped– it comes off very “meh” by the end of it.

When the NHL starting doing their annual Winter Classic in 2008 (there was a one-off outdoor game in 2003 which started the wheels in motion for this), it was a great hype vehicle. It allowed for the NHL to go to historic venues of other sports to play their game and get a ton of revenue through ticket sales and merchandise. However, the biggest problem was over-saturating the market when the formula worked. Once they saw the Winter Classic work, they moved to a Stadium Series of multiple outdoor games, the Heritage Classic games in Canada, then when those faded– they started using the teams that people would watch and make the other fans annoyed with a team like the Chicago Blackhawks getting into all the outdoor games.

The NHL lost the plot because they killed a golden goose.

Yes, other markets wanted games, but you can’t blow the wad of outdoor games as quickly as the NHL has seemingly done. Hell, in 2014 alone they had six outdoor games. Last season, the NHL had four outdoor games– but I bet people maybe remember one. Sure, they have gone to places like Wrigley Field, the Big House in Michigan, and Fenway Park; but they’ve also played in BMO Field (Toronto), Investors Group Field (Winnipeg), and Levi’s Stadium.

While this race only happens in Darlington, the drivers and teams are going to the well too many times with the same thing. Not only the Richard Petty STP scheme, but the #13 always going with the Smokey Yunick scheme, and RCR going with some sort of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. scheme. The originality is starting to fade and there’s not much they can do to regulate it– unless they just kill the idea altogether– which they won’t do because then they can’t exploit it.

For this Darlington race, at least, it could be a tool to distract fans from realizing how much NASCAR has bungled this season with the segments, the mismanagement of how points are distributed through said segments, and just the overall lack of hype for the new ideas that NASCAR has tried to instill with their “activation” with Monster Energy. The sanctioning body is a detriment to themselves and the sport. Darlington Weekend is a passing fad that seems to be getting less and less interesting by the year due to the fact we’ve seen it all before and nothing really changes but the looks of the cars.