Retro Relapse: The Potential Overkill of Outdoor Hockey

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2014.

Note: This was written six years ago but I still stand by it. However, now that we live in a COVID world, this might all be moot.

With the announcement that my Chicago Blackhawks will play the Washington Capitals in next year’s NHL Winter Classic, I am fairly ecstatic. Why? Well, my team will be featured in the biggest and most awesome regular season game of the year. While the Blackhawks storm Washington on New Year’s Day, millions will watch in awe, as real men take to the ice and level each other while fighting the elements and trying to score goals in much harsher conditions than playing in some random indoor arena. If the weather is anything like it was during the last Winter Classic, we are in for something special.

And that’s the thing, the Winter Classic is special. It isn’t a championship game and it really doesn’t mean anything to the record books other than a regular season win or loss for the teams involved. However, it does mean bragging rights for whomever wins the most watched game of the year. And even though bragging rights isn’t anything as big as a championship, this game does have a championship feel to it. Nothing vital is on the line but the Winter Classic still feels like the Superbowl of hockey.

As amazing, as successful and as watched as this event is, the NHL’s commissioner, Gary Bettman has taken the ball and ran with it: expanding the idea to what has become known as the NHL Stadium Series.

This passed year, due to the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series, we had 6 outdoor NHL events. We had the Winter Classic itself between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then there was the Blackhawks hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Solider Field. The New York Rangers had two games at Yankees Stadium, one against the New York Islanders and the other against the New Jersey Devils. The Vancouver Canucks hosted the Ottawa Senators in what is known as the Heritage Classic. There was also the most bizarre of any hockey game I have ever seen, which saw the Los Angeles Kings play the Anaheim Ducks at Dodgers Stadium. It was steamy, sunny and just a strange sight to behold.

Truth be told, six of these things is way too many. The last Stadium Series game played was Vancouver and Ottawa and by that point, I didn’t give a shit. I think I watched about five minutes of it and I’m a pretty hardcore hockey aficionado at this point. Granted, the Blackhawks and Penguins matchup from Soldier Field took place the night prior but even though that one featured my team, it felt less special, as I had already watched four of these games in the two months prior. Luckily, the Chicago game had insane weather and a dominant performance by my team because that made it more than worthwhile and an incredible experience.

The problem here, is that there is just too much of this Stadium Series shit. The NHL and Gary Bettman should put all their eggs in the basket that is the Winter Classic. That should be the focus and should feature great match ups. Call me an old school hockey whore but I think it should always feature at least one Original Six team. I’d say it should feature two Original Six teams but I wouldn’t want shitty markets like Nashville and Columbus crying that I’m being unfair.

The thing is, stadium hockey in the NHL has already reached overkill, at least for me. It probably isn’t that far behind with others. It is a unique experience but if you shove it down our throats six times a year, it isn’t unique anymore. If the Superbowl happened six times a year, most people wouldn’t care as much about the big one in February. And at least the Superbowl is contested for a championship. I’m not saying that the Winter Classic should be a championship game, that’s kind of hard considering the time of year and the 7 game series in the Stanley Cup Finals, but it should have that Superbowl feel and maintain it. Watering down the stadium concept by having a half dozen games in two months is going to kill it. Which sucks, because hockey doesn’t thrive in America and the Winter Classic could change that.

Additionally, college hockey has caught the bug and are now having a bunch of high profile outdoor games as well. Outdoor hockey hasn’t been uncommon at the college level but it is a different ballgame when you see collegiate teams battling it out on the ice in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park. As a fan of collegiate hockey, this is great for their game. It is bringing interest to one of the most ignored collegiate sports in America. On the flip side, this probably cuts into the glorious pie that is the NHL’s Winter Classic because the more outdoor hockey we get, the less special it becomes.

Will the NHL get rid of all the stadium games other than the Winter Classic? I seriously doubt it, at least in the near future. These games bring big money, big TV deals and lots of advertising revenue. I get it, they are making hockey a big business but like the housing crisis a few years ago, this is a bubble that can burst.

As far as regular season hockey goes, I’m talking about the hundreds of indoor games, what does this do to them? If we have a half dozen outdoor rock stadium-like games, does this kill interest in the casual viewer watching the other 99 percent of hockey games because they are played in some lame indoor arena? I could see this stadium overkill having that effect and that would be really bad for the sport. At its essence, hockey could become ignored, as casual fans only tune in for the dog and pony show portions of the season.

The NHL, as I’ve already stated, should focus on the Winter Classic. Put everything into that one special game and grow it over time. It is an amazing concept and experience that will sell itself and grow year after year. In this case, striking while the iron is hot will be good for the short-term but dilute the effects over the long-term. I’d prefer the sport to grow and thrive, not explode and quickly fizzle out.

Book Review: ‘When The Game Was Ours’ by Larry Bird & Earvin Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan

*Written in 2015.

I grew up in a pretty lucky time for a basketball fan. My introduction to the game was seeing the constant rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson unfold nearly each and every postseason. It set the stage for what was the best era in professional basketball history, as next came Jordan, Pippen, Malone, Stockton, Barkley, Ewing, Robinson, Drexler and so many others. Bird and “Magic” gave us what was the start of the amazing era that took over the 1980s and culminated at the 1992 Olympic Games with the assembly of the first and greatest Dream Team.

These two guys changed the game and enhanced its spirit. They forced the game to get better and their competition to work harder. They were generals on the court but they were also model citizens and guys worthy of pointing to and saying, “Hey son, be like that guy.”

Anyway, this is a pretty awesome book. Whether you like one of these guys, both of these guys, none of these guys, or just the game.. or not.. it is still a pretty awesome book.

It tells the tales of both men from their point-of-view as they came up through high school, through college and into the NBA. It gives insight as to what each man thought about the other, every step of the way. In many ways, them opening up about their feelings and thoughts is pretty cool, especially since much of what they share with the reader, they hadn’t yet shared with each other.

There are great stories in here, legendary stories in fact.

The only downside is that I felt like the book suffered from being written by a third party. Not to say the writing wasn’t good, it was great. However, it would’ve been a much more intimate and better experience had Bird and Magic penned their own words for the majority of the book.

Regardless, this book, at least to me, was a stark reminder of how much class the National Basketball Association and its stars had. Something that has been missing league-wide since the end of that Dream Team era. This book also reminded me why basketball was my favorite sport as a young kid.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: My Life by Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Drive by Larry Bird.

Ranking All 30 Second Series Episodes of ESPN’s 30 For 30

*Written in 2015.

Luckily for us, ESPN decided to do another set of thirty films to expand this series. Now that this series has also reached 30 films and we got the soccer spin-off series, I’m hoping we get a third generation.

But for now, here are the 30 films of the second series ranked. And to be honest, all of these are really good.

1. Survive and Advance
2. Of Miracles and Men
3. Requiem for the Big East
4. Ghosts of Ole Miss
5. No Más
6. I Hate Christian Laettner
7. Big Shot
8. Bad Boys
9. You Don’t Know Bo
10. Benji
11. Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau
12. Brothers In Exile
13. The U Part 2
14. Bernie and Ernie
15. Free Spirits
16. Angry Sky
17. Rand University
18. This is What They Want
19. When the Garden was Eden
20. Sole Man
21. The Price of Gold
22. Brian and the Boz
23. The Day the Series Stopped
24. Slaying the Badger
25. Broke
26. 9.79*
27. There’s No Place Like Home
28. Playing for the Mob
29. Elway to Marino
30. Youngstown Boys

Ranking All 30 Original Episodes of ESPN’s 30 For 30

*Written in 2014.

1. The 16th Man
2. The Two Escobars
3. Muhammad and Larry
4. Little Big Men
5. Once Brothers
6. Straight Outta L.A.
7. Kings Ransom
8. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?
9. Silly Little Game
10. Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks
11. June 17, 1994
12. Guru of Go
13. The U
14. Four Days In October
15. Pony Excess
16. Without Bias
17. Fernando Nation
18. One Night In Vegas
19. The Band That Wouldn’t Die
20. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson
21. Marion Jones: Press Pause
22. Jordan Rides the Bus
23. The Best That Never Ways
24. The Birth of Big Air
25. Into the Wind
26. Unmatched
27. The Legend of Jimmy The Greek
28. Run Ricky Run
29. Tim Richmond: To the Limit
30. The House of Steinbrenner

Book Review: ‘To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever’ by Will Blythe

Every time March Madness rolls around, I want to read a good book on college basketball. Last year, I was treated to the wonderful Duke Sucks.

Being that that book was fantastic and that I am always down with a little Duke hate, I wanted to read something similar. So, I got a copy of this book, To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry.

Needless to say, this book wasn’t on the level for me. Everything that I absolutely loved about Duke Sucks seemed to be absent from this piece of work.

Instead of tons of facts about Duke and North Carolina and a lot of steady jabs, what I got was a guy’s biography that was all weaved together with the thread that represents his hatred of Duke. Yeah, everyone hates Duke but I want more of that and less of this guy’s personal journey and how Duke was always a cloud over his personal events that I don’t give a shit about.

I would say that Blythe is a more accomplished writer than the authors of Duke Sucks but his book pales in comparison to that other mighty magnum opus of Duke hatred. And while this is more of a comparison to that book than an actual straight up review, I have to analyze the two side-by-side in case someone wants to know which of the two books is the definitive masterpiece on Duke hatred. Well, it isn’t this one.

I wanted more of that “Fuck Duke!!!” sentiment and less “well that time I was interviewing Uma Thurman…” Bro, I don’t give a shit.

In all honesty, I got bored with this pretty quickly as the dude’s life was the subject more than the greatest rivalry in college hoops history.

But at least the book features a picture of Mike Krzyzewski looking like the demon spawn we all know he is.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The book Duke Sucks and the documentary I Hate Christian Laettner.

Documentary Review: I Hate Christian Laettner (2015)

Release Date: March 15th, 2015
Directed by: Rory Karpf
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, John Loeffler, Chris Maxwell, David Wolfert
Narrated by: Rob Lowe

First Row Films, ESPN Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

ESPN’s 30 For 30 series of films is one of the greatest sports documentary series ever produced. It could be the absolute best but I’ll leave that open for debate.

The latest installment, I Hate Christian Laettner was one of the best films in the series.

For those who don’t know, Laettner played basketball for Duke University during their dynasty run in the early 90s. Duke, perceived as a school of privilege for mostly cocky white guys, was hated by pretty much any college basketball fan that didn’t actually go to school at Duke. Hell, they still receive a lot of disdain and hate from fans, even though they just won their 5th national title last night.

Anyway, Christian Laettner, the star of those early 90s Duke teams, was the focal point of the nation’s hatred. Whether just or unjust, he had to traverse through the sea of venom and perform at an elite level – a level that brought him two national championships, a spot on the original Dream Team and a high lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

This greatly edited film, narrated by Rob Lowe, shows who Christian Laettner truly is. He isn’t the caricature that people and the media manufactured in their minds and in print. It shows this whole story from the perspective of Laettner, his family, friends and his teammates. It paints a story of a kid (and later a man) who had to deal with a tremendous amount of unwarranted and unnecessary adversity. It showed how this affected the people around him. However, it also showed how he took all of it as fuel to burn: leading to tremendous success.

I think this film is more an examination of just how horrible people can be to one another. In a similar way to how Cubs fans treated Steve Bartman in 2003, college basketball fans of that era never really looked at the fact that this was another human being. Maybe that has to do with our celebrity obsessed culture and the way that regular people seem to have a disconnect with people sold to us as stars. Laettner, as the biggest star on the college basketball stage, was an easy target.

At the end of the day, Christian Laettner is a human being and people should just be more decent to one another. All he wanted to do was play ball and win. And truthfully, despite the hate, he had the last laugh and achieved many of his goals.

And he’s richer than most of us.

Rating: 8.25/10

Book Review: ‘Duke Sucks’ by Reed Tucker & Andy Bagwell

Duke Sucks: A Completely Evenhanded, Unbiased Investigation Into the Most Evil Team On Planet Earth is a gem among sports books. It is a paramount in the realm of books on the subject of college basketball. If you are a Tar Heels fan, it should be your friggin’ bible!

Reed Tucker and Andy Bagwell have given the world a pretty damning case against Duke University and their basketball team. I mean, other than people who go to Duke, who doesn’t hate Duke?

Okay, maybe I personally don’t “hate” them but there has been a very strong dislike for as long as I can remember and I’m not even a North Carolina fan. I’m a DePaul fan. Maybe my Blue Demons are overshadowed by the Blue Devils level of success but whatever, fuck Dook!

If you are a Duke fan, this book will be a pretty hard read. If you aren’t a part of that 0.001 percent, this investigation into how awful they are is a greatly entertaining read.

Duke Sucks is hilarious in it’s condemnation of Duke and the amount of evidence given is pretty profound. The authors succeed in proving their point and giving the reader an enjoyable ride in the process.

It is also a quick read, coming in south of 200 pages. I flew through it in no time, as I found it pretty hard to put down.

Duke truly does suck, we all know that. Now you can have a lot more ammunition as to why, thanks to this indispensable body of work.

Rating: 8.5/10