By Mike DeNardo
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The eyes of the hockey world are on Philadelphia this weekend, as the Winter Classic activities begin at Citizens Bank Park.
Flyers and Rangers alumni rumble on the ice on the infield, tomorrow. Then Monday, the current teams skate in the fifth installment of the Winter Classic, a wildly popular outdoor pro hockey game that’s quickly become a tradition.
Hall of Fame play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick will call the game for NBC.
“(Flyers head coach) Peter Laviolette, I asked him in Buffalo about three weeks ago. I said, ‘So, what do you think about the outdoor game?’ He said, ‘It’s the biggest game that we have in the regular season. There isn’t a game bigger than that for the two teams that are in it.”
There are decades of bad blood and hostility between the Flyers and the New York Rangers, and between their fans. Emrick says the rivalry will play out in the open air.
“The guys, if they’re turned loose are going to compete and it’ll be fun. And the same thing with the alumni game. Maybe they’ve slowed down a little bit, but the competitive juices are going to flow and they’re going to have some laughs, probably. But, they’re going to want to win the game.”
And even fans who don’t bleed orange and black or red and blue will be watching. Emrick says the annual novelty of outdoor hockey on New Year’s has done a lot to attract casual fans to the NHL.
Emrick will call the game from an open-air broadcast platform, set about ten feet above and ten yards back from the ice surface on the infield. Emrick says that vantage point posed a challenge at the Winter Classic two years ago at Fenway Park.
“One of the things that we hadn’t noticed was that, when the players are on the same side of the ice as we are, they stand a lot during a game, which they don’t do when you’re there watching practice. And so that called for a little extra work on our part to be able to see past them and to cheat a look at the monitor now and then.”
Emrick says having a rinkside view helps you identify who’s handling the puck — but he notes, the action flows by quickly when you’re that close.
And, of course, the weather is a prime concern when you stage an outdoor hockey game.
“You hope for dry, but you plan for wet.”
And, although Monday’s forecast looks decent, Emrick says it’s all about the preparation, because, “at an outdoor game, sometimes you can get really wet. So, I put plastic across all of my notes, which is usually a couple of pages that are attached together and put plastic over that to protect it from the rain.”
Emrick says he learned that lesson at the first Winter Classic in ’08 in Buffalo when the ink on his notes ran after being pelted with sleet.