Reports out of Pittsburgh are confirming a game that has been rumored for years: Winter Classic 2011, Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA. Surprisingly, this is a common-sense and good idea from the league. Don’t get too down on the matchup, it’s a good move for all of us. There’s plenty of good reasons for this game. Here are some of them.
- The matchup. For those of us that still watch ESPN, there is only one game that matters in hockey: Crosby versus Ovechkin. Since the Winter Classic is for the casual fan, this is obviously the best matchup to attract them. Since this pairing is what gets the discussion going all year long, why not put it in the league’s featured spot.
At the same time, burning the Crosby-Ovechkin fuse now gets it out of the way. The creative matchups can start coming out next year, especially since all of the easy games and venues are out of the way.
- The stadium. The two most well-known stadiums in the country are Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. After those two, where can you go? Lambeau Field does not have a NHL team in the same state. Yankee Stadium will be hosting an afterthought bowl game for the next five years. There aren’t that many iconic venues left, thanks to two decades of new stadiums stuffed with luxury boxes.
Therefore, Heinz Field is one of the best remaining options. Its biggest advantage is that the legacy of Steelers football can co-anchor the marketing campaign. Just as 2009′s ads involved Harry Caray and ivy, and 2010′s featured the Green Monster; 2011′s can have Terrible Towels and six Super Bowl trophies. Of any available option, what northern team has the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Another nice marketing tie-in is how NBC constantly has featured the Steelers on their Sunday Night Football games. Pittsburgh has played in ten games on Sunday nights, with five of those coming at Heinz Field. This year, the Steelers are scheduled to play three more games on NBC, with one in Pittsburgh. All three games are bound to feature a lot of cross-promotion by the NHL and NBC, to further build the audience.
- Alex Ovechkin’s national coming-out party. How many times as the nation been able to see Ovechkin play? The Capitals have never made a deep playoff run with Alex on the team. Team Russia was barely shown during the Olympics, and lost to Canada in the quarterfinals. No one watches the All-Star Game or Skills Competition, at least not the casual fan that NBC is trying to attract. When you actually stop to think about it, Alex Ovechkin has existed entirely in highlight reels for most casual fans.
The 2011 Winter Classic will be the first time that most of America watches a full Washington Capitals game. As hard as that to believe, it’s true. Hopefully, Alex Ovechkin has a great game, and solidifies his status as a marquee player.
For that matter, who else would be a good matchup for Ovechkin and the Caps? There are no other teams in the Southeast Division that are marketable in any way. Any potential rivals are in the Atlantic Division, and where could a Rangers/Capitals game be played, for example? For the good of Washington, it needed to be the Capitals versus the Penguins.
- The uniforms. Part of the awesomeness that is the Winter Classic is that each team gets to bust out some great throwback jerseys. Luckily for us, both teams are set to revive some great looks.
In Washington’s case, it will be the red, white, and blue classics from around 1987-95. This is the general set that the Capitals’ current jerseys are patterned after. For the most part, these were also the longest-used, as the team regularly added or subtracted stars on the uniform. These jerseys also match the same era as Pittsburgh’s.
For Pittsburgh, the logical choice is the gold and black set from the franchise’s first two Stanley Cups. It’s a unique color scheme and logo from the current set, which will move the various pieces of merchandise associated with the game. (It’s a different logo for using both an outline and a yellower gold, instead of the current “Vegas gold”.) It’s also a look that will be celebrated due to the history behind it, with the two Cups and all. There aren’t many other choices, because the only other unique scheme that the Penguins have is the powder blues that were used during the 2008 Winter Classic and beyond.
This game will be another beauty. I’m already looking forward to the jersey unveiling.
- Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Here’s the easiest advertising pitch possible: Ovechkin and the Capitals skating up the frozen Monongahela River from the southeast. Crosby, Malkin and the Penguins skating down the Allegheny. Both teams meet right where the two rivers merge, and look to the riverbank…where Heinz Field is lit up for a game night. How awesome would that be? How often would people play and replay that commercial?
The frozen river or frozen lake is a timeless image for the concept of outdoor hockey. Pittsburgh has the geography for some beautiful imagery, and given the track record, those pictures will be used in abundance.
Don’t get down on the Penguins/Capitals game, hockey fanatics. There’s plenty of reasons to look forward to this, and the five listed are just some of them. Given the record of amazing hockey already in just three years, this game should be another to remember.
About the Author: Gordon is currently looking to enter the world of journalism, while spending his free time at either the University of Michigan or the Joe Louis Arena.