x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fans refused to be let down by rain and slush

Despite all of that, the Winter Classic game between the rival Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals was a success.

The NHL's 2011 Winter Classic - the outdoor game between the rival Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals on January 1 - was far from picture perfect.

Truth be told, there was nothing winter or classic about it at all - there was rain instead of snow and the ice conditions were only slightly superior to slush. The temperature was over 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10°C) when the puck was dropped and it rained enough to create puddles and wreak serious havoc with the players' ability to perform.

Despite all of that, however, the game was a success.

First of all, it was completed, nobody was hurt, and the two teams - whose intense mutual dislike is not an act - delivered a fast-paced, entertaining product in spite of the on-ice challenges. But the Winter Classic, like the NFL's Super Bowl, has become much more about the spectacle of the event than the actual game itself.

With its grass-roots appeal and pond-hockey allure, the game has captured the imagination of the casual American fan, which just happens to be the demographic that's most cherished - and sought-after - by the NHL.

With nearly 70,000 fans in the stands at Heinz Field - waving Terrible Towels and refusing to let a few raindrops dampen their enthusiasm - the atmosphere at the Winter Classic was everything the NHL could have hoped for.

And really, that is what this game is all about - a magical and memorable ice hockey event that attracts fans from the very casual to the ice hockey hardcore.