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Comparing the Two Winter Classics

“Hockey never left Chicago, but it certainly has returned”

Scoreboard at Wrigley Field

Did you watch the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day? If you did, you certainly were not alone. According to television ratings reports, the Buffalo market had a 20 share, and that was the third highest viewership of any city, trailing only the two participant cities Chicago and Detroit. Those who did watch were treated to all the pageantry and excitement that Buffalo fans experienced here just a year ago.

But what was it like being at Wrigley Field at the second Winter Classic? Did the experience measure up to that of the Ralph? And should this event become an annual New Year’s tradition?

To answer those and other questions, we sought out some individuals who actually attended both events in person, one a tried-and-true Buffalonian with perhaps a bit of bias towards our home turf, and the second a seasoned hockey road trip traveler who has visited every arena in the National Hockey League.

Nick Mendola needs no introduction around these parts; he is a popular sports talk personality at WGR 550, where he has also achieved a degree of notoriety as the artist behind the catchy weekly Bills rap song. Danielle Granquist is an accomplished sports traveler from Golden, Colorado, whose tour of all 30 NHL arenas back in 2006-07 culminated right here in Buffalo. She maintains a Web site at Both were in the crowd of over 40,000 at Wrigley Field last Thursday.

“What really made it work in Chicago was that the Red Wings and the Black Hawks have such a rivalry and history,” said Mendola. “There was lots of chanting back and forth between the fans, lots of trash talk. My favorite part was people breaking out their classic jerseys—Eric Daze, Tony Amonte, Murray Bannerman, as well as Chris Chelios and Bob Probert in both colors.”

“They added a few touches that you guys didn’t do in Buffalo,” added Granquist. “There were tickets sold for, I think, $15, that allowed fans to go down on the ice after the game and participate in a community skate. But as for all the pregame stuff, basically people just showed up, did a lap around the stadium and took pictures, and then just entered. It wasn’t even close to the tailgate scene you guys had last year.”

Ah, the tailgating! Wrigley Field, a/k/a “The Friendly Confines,” is situated on the north side of Chicago in a dense urban neighborhood. Parking is scarce, many arrive via the L-train two blocks to the east, and large tracts of open land for parking just don’t exist. So what is the tailgater to do? “Nothing,” Mendola replied. “Basically, the happening thing was the bars and pubs around the ballpark, and it was one big street party along Waveland Avenue, but people showed up and that was it.”


Where should it go?

Nick Mendola: “I’ve actually laid out potential sites for the next five years, but 2010 I’d like to see Montreal play Boston at Boston College.”

Danielle Granquist: “After seeing both, I favor a football venue over a baseball field. That being said, Boston vs. the Rangers in the new Yankee Stadium seems like a great idea.”

Andrew Kulyk: “The battle of Pennsylvania—Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia in the center of the state, Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus. Imagine 108,000 hockey fans watching in person.

Peter Farrell: “How about picking up the OSU-Michigan rivalry? Columbus vs. Detroit at the Horseshoe in Columbus. What a great boost for the Blue Jackets franchise, which has lost some of its luster in recent seasons.”

“They really should have closed off some of the streets around Wrigley and set up huge tents or something to give a sense of a pregame celebration,” Granquist said.

What viewers at home did not see was the opening montage, replaying the scene at the 1991 NHL All Star Game at the old Chicago Stadium. “It was the height of the first Gulf War,” said Mendola. “People cheered wildly through the entire national anthem, and the scene was replayed at Wrigley. I’m one of these people who likes great anthem presentations. This one had me in tears.”

Granquist pointed out the sequence of flash cards that fans were asked to display to provide those neat overhead visuals. “When fans in my section realized that they were part of the Detroit logo, they started ripping apart the placards and tossing them away.”

So who had the better Winter Classic, Chicago or Buffalo? “No contest,” Granquist replied. “Buffalo by a mile. It was a more boisterous crowd, the tailgating and stuff going outside the stadium was awesome, and overall it was just a better event.” Mendola’s response was more measured. “Of course Buffalo has a special place in my heart. What I really noticed was that the NHL learned a heck of a lot after the first event, and made the adjustments to pull this one off. So it’s hard to say either way.” Mendola said that both events were special. “I want to go every year from here on in.”

One thing is certain: The NHL has now claimed New Year’s Day as its own, since the NCAA has bailed on its traditional bowl games in favor of the endless postseason and BCS games. “Of course I want to see this every year,” said Granquist. “People in Chicago are excited again about their hockey team. I hope the NHL gives serious thought as to where to put this in future years. Do it right and they will help grow the sports and connect with fans in new ways.”


■ Winger Matt Ellis was the star of the game in Boston last Saturday, netting two goals in the Sabres 4-2 win over the Bruins. That brings us to:

■ Quote of the week: After the Sabres’ debacle against Washington at home last week, fumed coach Lindy Ruff “When your best player out there is Matt Ellis, you don’t stand a chance to win.” OOPS!

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