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Some bad weather could be a good thing for buzz-free Winter Classic

Captain Jonathan Toews looked like he was working twice as hard to go half as fast, his skates slicing through the snow that had accumulated on the ice, his eyes fighting through the windswept snow that still was falling.

And after he broke Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik’s ankles with the hockey equivalent of a crossover dribble and slipped the puck between goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads, Toews looked every bit as excited as he did a week earlier, when he won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in Russia. He raised his arms, pumped his fists, then did a ‘‘Lambeau Leap’’ into the Blackhawks’ bench.

You’d never see Toews do that in a game on March 1 at the United Center. But the setting — the Soldier Field snow globe, with 62,921 frigid fans in attendance — made it special. Unforgettable, really.

‘‘That was a ‘wow,’ ’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said, recalling the goal and the moment.

But that Stadium Series game was less than 10 months ago. With the Winter Classic pitting the Hawks against the Washington Capitals a week from Thursday at Nationals Park, there seems to be very little buzz. It’s a matchup without any history in a stadium without any history. It’ll be the Hawks’ third outdoor game in six years. And it once again showcases overexposed, TV-friendly teams rather than something novel.

Is it too much of a good thing? The Hawks don’t think so.

‘‘Christmas is still to come,’’ defenseman Brent Seabrook said. ‘‘It’ll pick up. I think we’re all excited to play in it. It’s always been a great event. I’m sure if you ask the Washington Capitals, there’s probably more of a buzz there because it’s in Washington and not in Chicago. All the fanfare around it, we don’t get to see that here. But I know the guys are excited. We’ve been talking about it and getting ramped up. It’s going to be a fun day, a fun experience.’’

There’s one sure-fire way to make even the most mundane outdoor games special, and that’s snow. The first Winter Classic ended with the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby scoring the winner in a shootout in the snow at Ralph Wilson Stadium outside Buffalo. Last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings in the snow before 105,491 people at Michigan Stadium — the perfect combination of good game, bad weather and cool venue.

The forecast in Washington calls for partly cloudy skies and 33
degrees, with little chance of any precipitation. A little snow could go a long way, though. The game will make money for the NHL
regardless, but the optics make all the difference in terms of drawing TV viewers.

‘‘Yeah, maybe not as much snow as last year,’’ winger Patrick Kane said with a smile. ‘‘That might have been a little too much, where they were coming out every five minutes to scrape the ice. It was one of those things where you’re just trying to get a shot to the net because it might stop on the ice. But it was definitely a fun, unique atmosphere.’’

And despite coming right after the Olympics and against a team the Hawks didn’t know well, it was one of the most memorable games they’ve played. So some bad weather might be a good thing for a Hawks-Capitals game that doesn’t seem to have much juice behind it.

‘‘If you’re going to play outside, you might as well go all the way,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘It definitely is tough when you’re playing the game. But after the fact, it’s one of the coolest experiences that I’ve had playing in the NHL, and it’s something I’ll never forget. And trying to play Sidney Crosby on a two-on-two with the snow hitting his face, that made it a little easier for me to play defense on him. So I’ll take it.’’

 

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus