2014 NHL Winter Classic: The Manufactured Magic

I'm not sure I can adequately explain how excited I was when the news broke that the Winter Classic would be coming to Ann Arbor and would see the Red Wings matched up against the Maple Leafs. It was as though the NHL had finally come to their senses in multiple ways. They stopped worrying about having to have two American teams and let the strength of a rivalry and two passionate fanbases carry on its own merit. Not only that, but they took it out of a baseball stadium and back to a football field where it makes more sense to host an outdoor game. The prospect of getting together with 110,000 of my closest friends and dearest enemies made for one exciting prospect.

Then September 15th came and went and the NHL Lockout officially began. As the bickering dragged on and games dropped off the schedule, there came a point when it made more sense to postpone what would have been the greatest game of the season because the season had already been tainted.

I'll tell you honestly, there's still a bit of unresolved animosity brewing that I thought I had buried when I jumped back into the NHL. I never promised to boycott because I knew I wasn't going to hold up my end of the bargain. I paid for Center Ice and took two days before I watched my first non-Wings game. I've had hockey on as the standard every night since. I haven't been able to get into the Eastern Conference this year, but if there aren't other plans and the wife doesn't have a show she wants to watch, my TV is on hockey.

Then the news broke last week that they'd be announcing the Winter Classic on Sunday. We all knew a few days beforehand and had plenty of time to generate the buzz surrounding the announcement. We'd finally get to see the jerseys the teams would be wearing and would get some of the finer details.

The announcement came and went. Back at the Big House with all of the fun that should have happened this last January: the game itself; the alumni game, HBO's 24/7. They even gave us not one but TWO new jerseys we could buy to celebrate the event. I really should have been excited that this was all coming, especially since the Wings and Leafs will be Division rivals next season.

The problem is that I don't feel excited. I just feel kind of bitter.

I don't know. I mean, I'm going to go. I'm going to buy my ticket and book my hotel room and I'm going to party. The idea that I'll get to hang out with all of my fake internet friends for a weekend party centered around hockey is pretty great.

But the game? The surrounding hoopla? The blatant cash grab and the way my participation essentially helps turn this whole thing into a prom that the NHL is taking its sponsors to in order to prove they didn't ruin their own brand? Man, that part makes me feel raw and it makes me feel kind of stupid for wanting to go and take part in proving that the NHL can live without me a whole lot easier than I could live without it, apparently.

I thought I had gotten over the lockout. Turns out I just kind of transferred all that hate for it somewhere else and now it's coming out and attaching itself to perhaps the only Red Wings game I'll get to see live in person next season. Fortunately, I've got some time to work through that.

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