Talk about putting a damper on a great day.
Every year, Hockey Day Minnesota is celebrated across the state of hockey with a fever. The game is forever synonymous with the state's culture and people, perhaps second only to the State Fair. It’s a day to celebrate all ages of play, as youth and high school boys and girls games are televised from sunrise to sunset. It’s tough to see the scenes from Warroad this weekend and not immediately harken back to the days of being a child and rounding up your friends for a game of shinny on the local ODR.
The energy was palpable all day. That is until the attention turned indoors and a Minnesota Wild team clawing for a chance at the playoffs. For a second consecutive game, the state’s NHL team blew a third-period lead at home, this time to the 17-30-2 Anaheim Ducks. The lack of defensive discipline was akin to an in-house squirt game played at a rink near you that morning.
But the loss, their first on Hockey Day Minnesota in eight years, wasn’t the only damper to the end of an otherwise fantastic day of celebrating the game of hockey. The disappointment started at puck drop, with the lights shining bright inside Xcel Energy Center and a full crowd of 19,000+ on their feet. It felt like a normal, regular-season game. Because it was inside. After a day full of beautiful hockey on the shores of Lake Baudette, the penultimate game being played indoors just felt flat.
That got me thinking: what if the Wild and the NHL moved Minnesota’s annual Hockey Day Minnesota game to the outdoors, joining the rest of the state in a days-long event of hockey in the frigid Minnesota climate? What if Hockey Day Minnesota culminated every year outside at Target Field, with 40,000+ Minnesotans bundled up and enjoying the game the way in the traditional sense that special day is supposed to invoke?
That would be a fun tradition I think most Minnesota fans would welcome. Moving the annual Wild game to the outdoors would tie the whole day together – hockey being played outdoors across all ages, from the youngest hockey players to the pros.
But is it possible? Likely not. The NHL tends to get in its own way repeatedly, so they'd meet a slam-dunk idea with resistance. Some of that reluctance to change is understandable but not impossible to overcome. Before getting into the benefits of such an idea, let’s debunk some of the most obvious complaints that may come from the league or the hockey world itself.
It Wouldn’t Be Fair For Minnesota To Host An Outdoor Game Every Year
Are we trying to make sure every game has equal footing? If we did, the NHL would have abandoned the current point structure and moved to the 3-point system years ago. Or are we genuinely attempting to grow the game? It should be the latter, and nothing helps grow the game like adding excitement to your product.
Would it be completely fair for the Wild to host an outdoor game every year? Not really. But it also wasn’t fair to have Minnesota and three other teams have their schedules disrupted this past Fall and travel overseas to play in Sweden. Yet everyone agrees those international games are crucial to the NHL and growing its fan base.
The same can be said for moving the Wild’s Hockey Day Minnesota game outdoors every year. It’s probably not fair to have a new team each year travel to Minnesota and play an outdoor game against a team with more experience playing in the elements. Still, the construction of these outdoor rinks and maintenance of the ice is better now than it’s ever been. The advantage would be minimal. Besides, you can mitigate some of that unfairness by having the Wild host an Eastern Conference team every year, so the game would affect playoff seeding less.
The Minnesota Winter Climate Won’t Allow It
Potential climate issues won’t take long to move past, but they still need to be addressed. Yes, Minnesota winters can occasionally be brutal. But most days, the cold isn’t so bad an outdoor game would need to be canceled. Some Hockey Day Minnesota events have been in some cold temperatures, but not cold enough to cancel any games. It’s hard to imagine an NHL game not being played when youth athletes can play through it. We’ve already seen the Wild play in sub-zero temps in a packed stadium.
In the 16-year history of Hockey Day Minnesota, only once was it moved indoors due to the weather -- and that was in 2012, when the day was too warm. You wouldn’t have that problem with the technology available to the NHL. In 2014, they played a game at Dodger Stadium when the game-time temperature was a balmy 62 degrees.
The issue of the weather would be almost non-existent. In the highly unlikely event the game can’t be played outdoors, the league could implement a contingency plan.
It’s Too Many Outdoor Games
Having too many outdoor games makes sense for a regular NHL fan. It’s the reason the NHL has been reluctant to add more outdoor games to the schedule. They want to maintain the uniqueness of the Winter Classic and only add one or two Stadium Series games each season. But ultimately, those outdoor games only get exhausting when they are on national TV.
There's no reason to put the Hockey Day Minnesota game on TNT or ESPN. The idea would be to keep it regional for Minnesota sports fans. Why? Because such a game would only be special to the people it’s meant for – Minnesotans. It’s our day. Hockey Day Minnesota was not created to spread the sport to other parts of the NHL world. It was designed to celebrate a cherished pastime of our great state.
Would adding a yearly outdoor game in Minnesota ruin the potential for the Wild to host another Winter Classic? Perhaps. But after how the first one went, maybe that’s not such a bad idea.
There's probably more debate to be had over the possibility of moving the Minnesota Wild game outdoors. But we can easily expunge most of those opinions in opposition to such an idea. It just makes too much sense not to do it. The largest reason is more revenue, the biggest motivator for the NHL.
Moving the game outdoors would take an already profitable game for the Wild and triple, maybe even quadruple their revenue for the Hockey Day Minnesota game. The get-in price would probably not increase too much, but the increase from a capacity of 19,000 to 40,000, plus the increase in sponsorship abilities, would add quite a chunk of cash to the league’s hockey-related revenue.
And that’s not only of benefit to the NHL, as they are continually in the top 10 in the NHL in revenue generated. Per the league rules, the top 10 teams in the league share a small percentage of those dollars with the bottom 10 teams in the league. Creating added revenue at the top only helps the health of the entire league. (Who knew trickle-down economics worked so well when sharing those profits was mandated, am I right?)
While the added revenue makes it a near no-brainer for the NHL, it’s a move that needs to be made for the State of Hockey. It's deflating to watch every youth and high school game being played outdoors all day long is deflating, only to turn on the TV to see the Wild finishing the day indoors. It’s time to add the Minnesota Wild to the true tradition of Hockey Day Minnesota.
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