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Quite possibly, the Winter Classic is the most fun sporting event of the year. There’s really nothing like it. Professional hockey on an outdoor rink, subject to cross-winds, wind chill, rain—and snow—the Winter Classic is not an All-Star Game, nor an exhibition match. This game counts, and the 2012 edition in Philadelphia today featured teams fighting for play-off position—NY Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Maybe it’s the huge crowd (50,000 versus the normal 20,000 fans). Maybe it’s the unknown element that Mother Nature brings to the table. Or just maybe it’s because we enjoy watching athletes brave extreme weather conditions (think Green Bay Packers playing at home during a blizzard—but that’s their preferred home field advantage). Whatever “it” is, the Winter Classic brings a touch of magic to the new year.

Keep in mind, the organizers of the first Winter Classic could have opted for a thermostat controlled domed stadium, installed the ice rink, and captured the same huge crowd. However, by taking the event outdoors, to hockey’s natural element, suddenly we’re transported to a different era, when boys grew up playing hockey on frozen lakes, backyard rinks, or any fairly smooth surface covered in ice. Even though in this age of indoor rinks, modern conveniences and—dare we say—global warming, many professional players have never actually had the experience of playing hockey outdoors, the Winter Classic provides nostalgia, a glimpse into “the good old days.”

The “good old days” in this instance could be the mid-1970’s, when Philadelphia’s Broad Street Bullies muscled their way through the league, trumping the finesse of the Montreal Canadiens with brute force and intimidation on the ice—a scrappy center named Bobby Clarke and the guy everyone (besides Flyer fans) loved to hate, Dave Schultz. The Winter Classic 2012 paid homage to those good old days during the first intermission by introducing many members of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs and featuring a moving rendition of God Bless America, with Laura Hart (who sings at Flyers’ home games today) in a duet with Kate Smith, featured on the video screen in center field, singing as she had before really important Flyers home games back in those good old days. Kate Smith was magic for the Broad Street Bullies—and every team in the league knew it.

The fact that the game itself was thrilling only added to the magic of the event. In just five years, the Winter Classic has become a tradition, speculation already building regarding the possible location for the 2013 game. Here’s hoping the Classic travels north of the border for a match-up for the ages: Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs. Just think of the nostalgia that game would inspire.

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