Yes I said it, we still have a winter classic to enjoy! The difference this year is you won’t be seeing professionals on the ice. In the true essence of the game, this winter classic will be played by amateur players, which is arguably how it should be. This is where kids learned to first love the game, long before playing for millions and shares of the revenue were thought about. If you look back into the history of hockey you will find its roots outdoors, on ponds, rivers, and homemade rinks.
Growing up in St. Louis, I was only able to experience pond hockey a few times because of the lovely change in weather here, but was it ever fun! The stories you hear from the NHL players that got their beginnings outdoor sum up the true spirit of hockey: Playing till dark, playing till you couldn’t feel your toes or fingers, playing till Mom called you in for supper, only to go back out and play a night game because someone hung a few lights for the boys to play just a little bit longer. The crisp air, the frost you feel on your lungs when you give it your all in an outdoor game – that was hockey!. Every kid got the opportunity to be Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, Hull, Orr, Crosby – the list goes on depending on your era. All of these superstars played some outdoor hockey before they became a household name. I remember hearing, I am Gretzky, I am Lemieux, I am …and the list goes on until everyone had a player they thought they could play like -- if only for a moment.
As I sit back and think about what has become of the NHL this year, as disgusted as I am, I have to say I’m a hockey loyalist, and so I’m very excited to see the NHL and the Blue note back in action. Even though the NHL winter classic is canceled, we have opportunity to be a part of one that won’t draw 100,000 fans, and won’t have any future hall of famers in it. But, I can tell you that it will be one of the most exciting times for at least the players that get to participate and maybe some of the fans that enjoy watching the game the way it started, outdoors.
The event I am referring to is the winter classic at Shaw Park, in Clayton, MO. I have been privileged to be a part of this annual event each year the Midstate’s hockey organization has held it. Our team, the Varsity Oakville Tigers, will play a rival, the Lindbergh Flyers. It will be a game that these players will not forget and will resemble a rivalry of the original 12. The players will talk about it long after their high school career is over and even long after their sports career ends. Third jersey’s, hot chocolate, weather so cold you can see your breath and fan support that comes from the people that care the most, friends and families. Oh yes, this should be a game for the ages and although it’s an exhibition, I can bet our fans will be out in full force. In all my years of coaching at Oakville I have to say this year the 7th man/player has been better than ever. I have to personally publicly thank all the students that have supported us thus far this year. The players get so excited and up for the game when they see 600-800 people most of which are students they go to school with. They come up with creative celebrations and cheers and themes for each game. Yes they have theme night at the hockey rin!. With the NHL and its woes, it has been a breath of fresh air to see. So thank you Oakville Hockey Student fan section!! Keep coming and we will keep doing our best for you.
My goal of writing this is to see if we can make the winter classic here at Shaw Park as exciting and packed with fans as the NHL winter classic we grew to love over the last 5 years and desperately missed! I am having NHL 24/7 withdrawals and I am sure some of you are too!
Come out and support your local winter classic game January 26th, at 2:30 p.m. as the Oakville Tigers faceoff against the Lindbergh Flyers in a great rival match up that is sure to be something to remember. Also if you go to www.midstateshockey.org the other games being played that day at Shaw are listed.
To the NHL, we are glad you are back, maybe we can get your support in a game that isn’t about money and isn’t about a share of 3 billion dollars in revenue. If you are listening, come support some of your most loyal fans, the amateur hockey player.