On a sweltering, humid August afternoon from Yankee Stadium, it's usually all about balls and strikes, home runs and put-outs. But on Thursday, it was the NHL's turn to step up to the plate.
The NHL formally introduced the two upcoming Outdoor Series games to be played at Yankee Stadium in 2014. The first matchup features the New Jersey Devils against their cross-Hudson rival New York Rangers, on Saturday, January 26, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. The second game pits the Rangers against their other metropolitan-area rival, New York Islanders. That game will be played on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
"We are delighted to be here to discuss the playing of two outdoor games in this magnificent stadium," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, from a podium situated just beyond the Yankee dugout. "The Stadium Series is designed to give more teams, more markets, and most importantly, more fans, the opportunity to connect with the excitement of the National Hockey League and to do it with an outdoor game experience, in effect, taking the game back to it's roots, where so many of our players first learned to skate and play the game."
In attendance for the event were New York Yankees President Randy Levine, Yankees COO Lonn Trost, NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and NBC's Bruce Beck, who was the master of ceremonies.
Each of the three area teams were represented as well, with GM Lou Lamoriello, Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene on the stage for the Devils. For the Islanders, it was GM Garth Snow, along with Matt Moulson and John Tavares, and for the Rangers, Assistant GM Jeff Gorton, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.
"This will be our first experience in the outdoor games, and what great a venue to have that experience than Yankee Stadium," Lamoriello said. "Our players are excited, our fans are excited and we're just looking forward to the experience. We know that the games will be heated, we know that we bring competitiveness, and the experience will be something that everyone in our organization will cherish."
With the players sitting together on the stage, it might be the one and only time that members of the three area clubs will be together and be all smiles at the same time. Come October, the three Metropolitan Division rivals will likely be fighting each other for playoff positioning.
The heated relationships between the clubs certainly adds to the allure of the event. There's no doubt that the games may have a huge impact in the standings. With the three teams fighting for a spot in the new playoff format, the only way to be guaranteed a playoff spot is to finish third or higher in the new eight-team division. Finishing fourth runs the risk of losing the final spot in the newly-formed divisional playoffs to a team from the Atlantic Division.
Though there's always the chance of warmer weather, or a rain storm, all signs point to the outdoor games being a tremendous event for not only the three teams, but the entire NHL. Throwing 50,000-plus fans into a stadium for a rivalry game should yield a fantastic experience for fans.
"The rivalries among the the Rangers, Islanders and Devils are among the most heated in sports, and we will put them on display," Bettman said.
With the Devils slated to take the ice for their first outdoor game in franchise history in just over five months, it might be a little premature to get the coats and hand warmers ready. With a classic venue and a classic NHL rivalry, the game should be a home run.