Martin Brodeur called the makeshift rink at Yankee Stadium "the worst ice I ever played hockey on," and given a 21-year career, that's saying something. No other player on either team had such harsh words for the ice, but, then, no other player got yanked after giving up six goals in two periods.
Yesterday marked the NHL's first of two visits to the Bronx this week, the third of six outdoor games this season. There was grumbling when the Stadium Series was announced, to go along with the Winter Classic and the Heritage Classic, that the league was courting overkill, but ratings remain strong and stadiums haven't failed to sell out yet.
The NHL says it'll cut back from six in future years, but I believe there's a niche for semi-regular outdoor games as at least a local spectacle—they're infinitely more fun to attend in person than to watch on TV. It's a communal game-day experience, beginning with the unlikely sight of an uptown D train packed with Devils jerseys and half blown-through cases of light beer. It didn't end well for the nominal home team, but that was barely the point.
You watch an outdoor game because you want to see something you've never seen before, and they never seem to disappoint—for better or worse. Unforeseen headaches pop up all over the place. Puck drop was delayed some 40 minutes because of the glare off the ice, which was baffling—did the NHL not expect the sun to come up in the morning? (NBC PR folks, who were happily gladhanding through the press box, made themselves scarce just as the delay was announced.)
Beyond that, there were the natural pains of fitting an event into a place not made for it. Concession lines were a nightmare, which you'd expect when a sport with only two breaks in the action hits a venue designed for food runs spread out over nine innings. On the 400 level, one of the few hot chocolate machines in the stadium broke down. No, not broke down. Its innards froze solid, and it could not be brought back to life. But chocolate is not the only warming liquid of life, and even beer came up short—because of New York's archaic blue laws, the stadium wasn't allowed to sell beer before noon. Maybe you don't think that's a problem for a game with a 12:30 start time, but these are hockey fans.
The game itself was fun. (By "fun" I mean high-scoring. Don't tell the purists.) The puck wouldn't stay flat, and players had trouble changing directions, which led to a lot of odd-man rushes, but that's part and parcel of playing on an outdoor rink. Henrik Lundqvist was able to settle down after a shaky first period. Brodeur? Not so much.
There was some eye-rolling when Peter DeBoer announced Brodeur would get the start. Everyone understood that this was a valedictory start, a lifetime achievement award. Brodeur didn't earn it by being the Devils' best goalie this year, and that's fine. But the explanation would have been a little easier to take if Brodeur, with a save percentage now below .900, hadn't started three more games this season than Cory Schneider, who's been one of the league's best in inexplicably limited action.
"At that point, I had a conversation with him and we both agreed and it was actually his comment that, 'How about you give Schneids the experience of a period in this environment,'" DeBoer said. "It wasn't working for him or our group the way it was and I give him credit for that. It made sense, too."
"I told Pete, I said, 'If you wanted to put in Schneids for the experience,'" Brodeur said.
Here, best goalie on our team. Have a token period when we're already down three. Brodeur's best days are well behind him, and Schneider's numbers are fantastic. So while all the Devils—even Brodeur—praised the experience of the outdoor game, it still counted in the standings. With Yankee Stadium in the past and 29 games to go, even the staunchest of Marty fans probably want to see a lot less of him between the pipes. The Metropolitan is a train wreck and wide open, and New Jersey can't afford to forfeit many more points to sentimentality.