In Review: The Road To The Winter Classic

The Road To The Winter Classic:

On January First, 2018 The Buffalo Sabres come to town to take on The New York Rangers. Only this game, will not be held at Madison Square Garden. This matchup will take place outside, at Citi Field in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park in Queens, New York.

The Beginnings:

The First NHL Winter Classic was played 10 years ago. The event took place in Orchard Park, NY – just outside of Buffalo. The exciting game featured the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins. With snow falling, and the weather playing a part in the games opening goal, everyone knew this already deemed “Classic” was a tradition in the making. The Sabres took a loss in the shoot out, but will forever be part of that history.

NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 26:  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers, while partaking in the 2014 Stadium Series outdoor games, have never hosted a Winter Classic. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the heated, yet frozen 2012 Winter Classic at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. The Rangers took the game 3-2 in front of just under 47,000 frozen fans.

The Show:

While the Tradition is exciting, so is the anticipation. To magnify the anticipation, each year the NHL puts out a mini series called “The Road to The Winter Classic” giving us an inside look at our favorite players and teams in the weeks up to the outdoor game. With the Rangers’ “hosting” this years event, let’s review episode one of “Sabres – Rangers Road to The Winter Classic.”

Warning, Spoiler Alert: If you did not watch episode one, everything from here forward would be a spoiler.

Episode ONE:

In true Documentary style Episode one opens with a dramatic introduction. The battle music cues and the first figure we see is Henrik Lundqvist suiting up.

The Narrator begins “The whole point of getting to the biggest stage of any walk of life, is all that the biggest stage offers you. The attention, the pressure, the magnitude. So then welcome. Welcome to the biggest stage in the world.” This intro brings us to “The City That Never Sleeps,” and the “biggest stage” mentioned is THE Big City, New York City. He continues, “When you wear this sweater, you know what you’re in for.” Implying that the New York Rangers are used to the attention, pressure and magnitude, playing in “The Worlds Most Famous Arena” Madison Square Garden.

The parody is quickly mentioned as
“Sabres have things a little different up state.” Nonetheless, the Sabres are still a highly qualified group of professionals, ready to take on any obstacle in their way for the win.

I enjoyed this intro. It did, as it should, set up a match where the Sabres are obviously coming into this game as the Underdog. Something the fans in Buffalo are used to, and thrive of off.

Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

Practice Makes Perfect:

Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei and Jimmy Vesey open the show boarding the subway headed to the outdoor practice that was held December 3rd.
We get an inside look at the team interacting with fans and are reminded that the Rangers have made the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons. The narrator introduces Kevin Shattenkirk as the newest Blueshirt, while Jimmy Vesey gives a positive note about the team telling media that “we have four lines that can score.” Next we get a short clip from head coach Alain Vigneault. “It all starts with our goaltender,” AV says, as he goes on to call Henrik Lundqvist the “Backbone” of the New York Rangers. This segment brings up the keys to victory we often write about before games. The Rangers goal tending and contribution from the fourth line is paramount for their production and success this season.

I87 North to 90 West:

Next, we head 6 hours away in Western NY. Peaking in on a Sabres practice, the narrator reminds viewers the team has no Stanley Cup victories in it’s history, but is building a future towards one. Here we find the Sabres practicing inside, opening with Sabres legend and head coach, Phil Housley.
“The number one thing for me,” says the Head Coach, “commitment to winning.” They plan on creating this commitment with leaders like Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Jason Pominville and Kyle Okposo surrounding their Generational Talent, Jack Eichel.

This first look at the Sabres on ice end with the players huddled up at the end of their practice. “Let’s forget about what’s already happened this year and focus on the future “

Sabres Bowl-a-Rama:

Here we get a look at the Sabres off ice at the 2017 Sabres Bowl-a-Rama. Zach Bogosian admits he only bowls twice a year. One being their fundraising event. Okposo drops the ball due to his “fat fingers.” However, even more embarrassing is the close up on Bogosian’s rental shoes. I’m certain he was not wearing socks, this is a developing situation, and it concerns me.
Hopefully the Sabres Foundation received more than generous support at the event, and someone suggested Zach wears socks next year.

New York State of Mind:

Next we check in on Kevin Shattenkirk in his Manhattan apartment preparing to head to MSG for a game against the Devils. In a yellow cab he discusses his love for the New York Rangers growing up. He explains how after bringing a championship to the big city “you’ll be a hero forever” and it’s something he’s witnessed, and really wants to do.

Finally we get an inside look into the New York Rangers’ locker room. These are usually the scenes that make the show. Here we get a true inside look at the team. Player antics, coaches hidden personalities, and the human side of our favorite players.
AV reminds the team “first three strides, good communication, move it quick.”
“Ready kid?” He asks, “here, get us going kid.” as he hands the starting lineup to the kid on D, Brady Skjei.

“On the back end” Brady says,
“The Good Hair Pair Holdly and Chuckly. Up front we got Hayley, Nashley and Quickly. And in the pipes, the king- Hankley!”  Here we have perfect insight into some pre game locker room fun. Brady Skjei energetically hoping to get the team going after a disappointing loss in Washington. After, we get a mic’d up breakdown of one of the Rangers best games of the season so far. The viewer gets an on ice, closer look at the players and coaches verbal communication during their 5-2 win as the Rangers Exorcise The Devils at MSG. After the game we get another look inside the locker room as Boo Nieves compliments “Hankley” and “Quickie” on their play, but it’s Zuccy who gets The Broadway hat. These segments, to me, are what this show is all about.

Family Life:

Off to Jason Pominville’s basement where we get an inside look at his family time. Excited to be back in The Sabres sweater, and a family excited to be back home. We see a family playing hockey and doing gymnastics in the basement. Pominville, who played in the original Winter Classic 10 years ago, is excited to represent his team once again.

Back in NYC we get a glimpse of the Nash family. The 2018 Winter Classic will be Nash’s first Winter Classic. We get a quick glimpse of the Nash family enjoying their City Skyrise apartment.  Now a vet- the show nicely segues saying that “For Nash life now is decidedly different, but there once was a time when he too was the young face of a franchise. Just as Jack Eichel is with the Buffalo Sabres, in his third year in the league”

Generational Talent

Enter Jack Eichel.
“I could be doing a lot of things worse than playing hockey.” He explains, “I’m going to enjoy it everyday.” as he should with an 8-year $80 million dollar contract extension that goes into effect next season.

A quick look into the Sabres away locker room opens us to a game in St. Luis vs the Blues. Down 2-0 after the first period, the team rallies reminding each other how the opposing team “played last night,” so shoot the puck. And they did. The rest of the segment shows Rookie Rodrigues scoring a goal assisted by Eichel, and then another to tie the game. But again, they fall just short, losing in overtime.

Closing Time:

In the outro the narrator pronounces “New Years Day is offering a unique landmark to anticipate. In just a few weeks time, the biggest stage in The world will be theirs.”

I really enjoyed this first episode of “Sabres – Rangers Road to The Winter Classic.”  If you recall, the show used to air on HBO. That goes without saying that we will probably see a much more watered down behind the scenes look at each team. Prior seasons were known for letting coaches show their frustrations and emotions, without holding back. I’m excited to watch this years show focusing on the Rangers. However, I hope we don’t miss out on the real tough, unfiltered, uncensored moments that make the sport of hockey the one I love.

Up Next?

Episode two airs Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 11:30 p.m. immediately following Detroit Red Wings-Philadelphia Flyers on NBC Sports.

What were your thoughts on episode one? Favorite “Road To The Winter Classic
Moment? Going to the game on New Years Day? Leave your comments below, follow me @Face_Off_Forte on twitter, and Let’s Go Rangers!

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