Coach Joel Quenneville took in the Soldier Field atmosphere on Thursday, all 80-something degrees of it. It was reason enough to smile. So was knowing they’d be back here on skates a few months from now.
“On a Saturday night, March 1, right after the Olympics, wow,” Quenneville said of the NHL Stadium Series game that will pit the Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field. “I know how cool that game was with Detroit at Wrigley (in 2009); it’s still the coolest event I’ve been to. This will go over the top as well.”
The fanfare the Blackhawks usually get at the United Center will be doubled — make that tripled, or more — when that game convenes in March. The Stadium Series is a collection of six NHL outdoor games this season, starting with the Winter Classic (Toronto vs. Detroit) on Jan. 1 and ending with the Heritage Classic (Ottawa vs. Vancouver) on March 2. For those who played at Wrigley Field in the Winter Classic a few years ago, it’s a joy to get ready for another outdoor spectacle.
“I’m definitely used to being around a rink and playing outdoors all day long. You feel like you’re a kid again,” Duncan Keith said. “I’ve been in a couple of these already. It’s exciting to be a part of it.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman joked that Blackhawks president John McDonough had called him plenty of times to make sure the Blackhawks were included in any outdoor events. McDonough said he’ll keep asking.
“Who would’ve thought five years ago we’d have an outdoor game at Wrigley, and now we’re at Soldier Field. I think it adds to the luster of both franchises, this mega-event feel, and we’re happy to be a part of it. And we’ll probably always be making sure that we ask commissioner Bettman to weave us into everything he possibly can.”
What started as one Winter Classic has now morphed into a six-game series. When the plan was first announced, we wrote in this space that the increase in games took away the uniqueness of the Classic. But Bettman and others were fine with the idea.
“Sports is the ultimate reality show. Then add the weather, and it captures the imagination and gives our fans a unique experience,” Bettman said. “Teams involved in the six places we’re having the games, the fans can’t get enough of it. The special events staff may say, ‘This is a lot of games.’ But we think we can manage it well. Whether in Chicago, New york, Vancouver ... the reaction to the game and the fan turnout will be nothing short of spectacular.”
“Each one is unique,” he said. “It’s in different cities, and it’s great for each fan base to take part in it and witness the games.”
The Blackhawks reveled in their Winter Classic moment back in 2009. They figure they’ll be enjoying the moment again come March.
“Someone just mentioned, ‘Would you practice at night before the game?’ We’ll visit that. There’ll be enough excitement going into the game,” Quenneville said. “It’s something you look forward to as a player and a coach. There’s a lot of build-up before it, but when you stand in the middle of the field, it’s a great feeling.”