There’s an old cliche that basically says nothing quite tops your first time. You’ll always have fond memories of your first kiss or your first car or, for St. Louis Blues fans, your first Winter Classic.
Of course, everyone will have their own personal experiences. It’s hard to compare one against the other.
However, for me, the 2022 Winter Classic was not as good as the 2017 one. Sadly, that point of view has little to do with the game.
With a Blues perspective in mind, the 2022 game was quite entertaining. The Blues had the better run of play in the first period, but were unlucky to be tied 1-1.
St. Louis dominated in the second period and scored five more goals. The third period was not something to write home about and they held on for a 6-4 win.
Similarly, the 2017 Winter Classic was mostly a dominating performance by the Blues. Chicago had the only goal of the first period, putting doubt into the crowd at Busch Stadium.
Seemingly, the Blues seem well adjusted to life outdoors. Two games, two wins and neither one was really in doubt.
So, why does the 2017 game get the edge? Part of it is just the special nature of it.
2017 was before the Blues won the Cup, so we hadn’t gotten that kind of respect from the league yet. At the time, many fans assumed St. Louis would be lucky to ever be granted a Stadium Series game, much less a Winter Classic.
For the Blues to be granted the showcase event for the NHL, outside of the playoffs, was beyond our dreams and then, there it was. The Blues were playing their arch rival in Busch Stadium, where so many Cardinals vs. Cubs rivalry games had been held.
It was like Christmas morning, knowing you were going to get something good from Santa, but never quite sure what it might be. Clearly we knew the Winter Classic was coming for awhile, but you never know how it will turn out.
The weather for that 2017 version was a downer, being mostly rain, but the atmosphere was great and the Blues won. That made it all the sweeter.
From that perspective, the 2022 version could never live up to it. The Blues were on the road and it was someone else’s turn to have their first.
Though we never really want anything positive for our rivals, you almost felt bad for how the game transpired for Minnesota Wild fans. That second period had to be so deflating for the people wearing green. I’ve always thought that the home team should always win events like that, but clearly that’s not how sports work, nor would it be the result I would truly want when the Blues are the road team.
In terms of the on-ice product, it’s hard to compare one to the other though. You can look at the scores and see six Blues goals instead of four Blues goals, but the conditions are different.
One game was in sloppy, wet weather, while the other was so cold that you had to worry about the ice cracking.
If you mute the televisions and only watch the action, I’d say both games were on a similar level. The Blues won both and neither game was as crisp or clean as you’d like, but they were entertaining.
No, to bury the lead idea, the real reason 2017 was better is because of the coverage. TNT really sucked the joy out of that game.
Being someone in media myself, I usually know why this happens or that choice was made. I also attempt not to be too critical because you never know what mayhem is going on behind the scenes that we never hear about.
However, even taking all that into account, it just was not a good production. The problems became so clear that it affected fan’s enjoyment of the game.
Kenny Albert, from a technical standpoint, is a good broadcaster. It’s hard to be a national broadcaster because you’re trying not to sound in favor of one team or the other and both sides accuse you of failing in that attempt.
For my tastes, Albert is not a number one broadcaster though. Guys like Doc Emerick and Gary Thorne, like them or not, interject a certain amount of enthusiasm and energy for both teams that make the game feel like a higher level. Even though I know it’s not the case, Albert just sounds like a guy who has never done anything but national games and tries too hard not to interject emotion into either team’s goal calls.
It was not just an Albert problem though. TNT’s coverage, as a whole, was very second class and, in some cases, unprofessional.
After the first period ended, they sent their coverage back to the studio. We were greeted by two of the five chairs being empty since apparently nobody told Wayne Gretzky and Paul Bissonette to get back on set. Some might find this comical and the crew played it off, but that’s just not very professional by any involved.
Speaking of the studio crew, they hardly talked about the game at all. The main references to the game were giving Gretzky a hard time because he predicted a 2-1 score. Anson Carter and Rick Tocchet did talk up the Blues and Jordan Kyrou, but there was always some Bissonette quip to disrupt things and make it more like locker room talk than a television discussion. That’s great for podcasts, but not a national broadcast on the league’s premier midseason event.
The on-site crew were almost as bad. It was like watching a baseball broadcast.
The amount of stories they kept telling during the action was ridiculous. While this is the style that most modern television broadcasts go for, you do need to announce the action. To put it in perspective, this game made me yearn for the days of Pierre McGuire. Even as much as he would drone on about someone’s game winning goal scored as a third grader, his stories felt succinct compared to how the TNT crew went off on tangents. Even our own Darren Pang added to the disjointed nature of it all.
The problem I have with this broadcast, and most TNT broadcasts to be fair, is this truly looks like their first time broadcasting hockey. Despite all of their on-air talent coming from either NBC or other high profile hockey shows, it doesn’t have a first class feel.
I wonder who Turner Broadcasting brought in behind the scenes. My worry is they’ve treated this the same as they did professional wrestling.
When Turner bought the old WCW, instead of hiring a crew that knew how to film and produce wrestling, they brought over their NASCAR production crew. That’s about as smart as hiring a wedding video crew to shoot a feature film. It all involves cameras, but it is a completely different process.
During one intermission, they announced the Team USA women’s hockey roster. You could barely tell that’s what was going on since they had Jenifer Botterill jabber on over the whole thing. Yes, she was talking about the team, but there’s a time to step back and keep things simple and having an analyst do a monologue was not keeping it simple.
The postgame was a joke. Liam McHugh was left in the dark whether the show would actually be joined by commissioner Gary Bettman or not.
McHugh also said the show would be joined by Craig Berube. They then went to a commercial break that lasted about eight minutes, which is double what is normal, and then signed off for the night once they went back to the studio.
Maybe the cold caused issued with equipment. Perhaps someone forgot to record sound or any number of technical problems came up.
Whatever the case, it made many on social media yearn for the days of NBC Sports. As much as we used to complain about their coverage, Doc made these games have a special feel and the studio crew actually broke down the game.
TNT makes it feel like a video podcast show in studio, where they spend more time chirping one another than discussing actual hockey. The on-site crew is pedestrian and, again, wanting to talk to one another instead of painting a picture, or even providing captions, about the game.
Those that attended both the game in St. Louis and the one in Minnesota might have had a different take. From what we could see, it looked as though they put on an excellent show at Target Field and I hope it was a fantastic live event for all that braved the cold, both Wild and Blues fans.
For those of us that watched at home, I’ll take a rainy game with Doc over the coverage we got on TNT any day. It was still special to win another Winter Classic and those vintage white sweaters were sweet, but it just didn’t have the same feel as 2017, mostly because of TV factors.