The balmy, 45-degree sunshine glaring off the ice may have left some longing for the snowstorms that marked previous incarnations of the game, but not even sun-induced glares could detract from the almost unblemished success of the 2015 New Year’s Day Winter Classic. For the National Hockey League, its fans and the city of Washington, D.C., the game epitomizes their successes from recent years.
When the idea for the Winter Classic was conceived seven years ago, the league was uncertain if it could be successful, unsure if it could even fill an outdoor stadium in the depths of winter. However, when Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., hosted the inaugural game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 1, 2008, the league’s concerns proved to be unfounded as the event set an NHL attendance record.
Four months later, in March 2008, Nationals Park opened its gates for its first season of baseball. On Jan. 1, 2015, that same park was filled to the brim with 42,832 hockey fans. And they certainly weren’t disappointed; what they saw was a thrilling game on glistening ice, and a last-second goal brought victory to an excited city.
For the NHL and hockey fans, the successes stemming from the Classic are obvious. While college football bowl games have traditionally been a New Year’s Day staple, the Winter Classic has arguably become equally beloved. For me, hockey, and not college football, was the reason I woke myself up from a slumber that could have lasted well into the evening.
The game proved to be worth the noon wake-up call — it had all the tenets of a classic hockey game, indoor or outdoor. The Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 lead, with their star power on display as captain Alexander Ovechkin scored one of those goals. Although Washington was able to kill multiple other power plays (including an edge-of-your-seat 5-on-3), the Blackhawks would not be denied, responding with two goals to pull the game even. The Capitals, however, emerged victorious when former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer silenced his former team and sent fans home happy when he scored a last-second goal.
To top it all off, conditions were impeccable. Snow may look nice, but it has a tendency to bring about logistical problems in a professional hockey game, like causing troublesome reflections off the ice, which creates a miserable experience. The scene seemed almost too perfect to be true — a beautiful rink and a miniature Capitol building surrounded by snow, all nestled inside a decked-out baseball stadium.
For the city, the experience was remarkable because it reflected the city’s burgeoning status as a sports powerhouse. For some time, the Capitals have represented a lonely spot of hope in an otherwise depressing mix of languishing D.C. franchises. In the Classic, however, the club put its ability on display in a venue that has hosted two MLB playoff series, mere blocks away from the future site of a brand new Major League Soccer stadium.
It is true that neither of those baseball series are something the city wants to remember. In addition, Nationals Park continues to walk a confusing path through city politics. Still, the Winter Classic was a great day to sit back and take pride in the city’s sports franchises and the direction in which they seem to be moving. The stadium looked incredible, and in a beautiful Winter Classic, the Capitals put Washington on the right footing heading into 2015. Now we get to see where it all goes.
Matt Raab is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. AROUND THE DISTRICT appears every Tuesday.