ST. LOUIS — Based on their miserable performance at Minnesota last month, the Blackhawks might have outdoor-game fatigue. And based on the lousy television ratings for that game, NHL fans might have Blackhawks fatigue.
But former Hawks center Troy Brouwer doesn’t blame the NHL for repeatedly leaning on its marquee franchise for its marquee events.
“They’re a team that’s won three Stanley Cups in the past six years, they’re a team that has a lot of star players on their roster, they’re a team that has a huge following throughout the NHL,” said Brouwer, who now plays for the St. Louis Blues. “I say, why not? If it’s a way to get more people to watch the game and sell the game and have more interest in the game, then us as players, we’re fine with it.”
The NHL is going to the well again, putting the Hawks in their fifth outdoor game — and fourth in as many years — at next year’s Winter Classic. The Hawks will play the Blues at Busch Stadium on Jan. 2, a long-expected showdown that the NHL made official on Wednesday. It’ll be the Hawks’ third Winter Classic (they’ve also played in two Stadium Series games). Nineteen teams have yet to play in a single Winter Classic, and eight teams have never even played in an outdoor game.
While players love the outdoor games, they haven’t been kind to the Hawks. They lost 6-4 to Detroit at Wrigley Field in 2009, 3-2 to Washington at Nationals Park in 2015 (Brouwer, then with the Capitals, scored the winning goal with less than 13 seconds left in the game), and lost 6-1 to Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium last month. The Hawks’ only outdoor win was a 5-1 rout of Pittsburgh at a snowy Soldier Field in 2014.
“We try to view it as another game, but at the same time, we wanted to be better than we have been in these outdoor games, especially when the NHL kind of keeps counting on us to play in them,” Patrick Kane said after the loss in Minnesota.
Viewership is down, too. The 2009 Winter Classic drew a 2.9 rating for NBC. The Hawks-Capitals one drew a 2.3. The Hawks-Wild Stadium Series game earned a 1.2 overnight, by far the lowest of any outdoor game on NBC.
But for the players, it’s still a treat. Andrew Desjardins has played in two outdoor games — one with the Hawks and one with the Sharks — and welcomed the chance to play in another.
“Now I haven’t done five,” he said with a laugh. “After a fifth one, that might make a difference. But it’s a fun time. I enjoy the whole process, because I get my family to come down and share some of those moments, which you wouldn’t be able to do in a regular game.”