|DRW.com contributor Lindsey Ungar laces up her borrowed RBK 5K Pumps before heading on to the ice at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.|
I prepared physically for this day for a week.
Last Tuesday, I dragged my sister over to an ice rink in Farmington Hills, Mich., and begged her to teach me how to skate in something other than rented brown beat-up figure skates. I eventually convinced her to let me borrow her prized RBK 5K Pumps.
I didn’t want to make a fool of myself at the Winter Classic media skate — and I wanted to look, well, cool.
She was hesitant at first — we went to the inaugural Classic together in Buffalo, and she was not happy that I’d rather sit in the press box then on the first base line with her.
Maybe it was the Christmas spirit, but her patience and generosity paid off on Tuesday.
I stumbled onto the ice, but didn’t fall. I had a reasonable glide going around the rink, even though I occasionally had to alert people, “I don’t know how to stop — sorry!”
NHL TV’s Carrie Milbank hobbled along the boards, trying to learn to skate with the help of two eager gentlemen. It made me feel a little pride as I gained confidence with each turn.
But for all of my newfound skills, I wasn’t prepared mentally for the moment. Just to get to the ice we walked through the visitor’s dugout, laced up our skates along the sideboards, and had the honor of being just the second group to skate on the new ice. I couldn’t wrap my head around it then, and I don’t think I’ll appreciate it fully until I see Pavel Datsyuk whisk through the neutral zone and recall, oh, I skated there too.
I’ve never been much of a baseball fan, save a few Detroit Tigers games each season. But I’m starting to envy and understand the people that live near the Addison El stop — there’s an intense passion for the Cubs in these parts, but an equally intense draw to Wrigley itself. Two members of the Cubs’ Community Affairs department, along with visitor’s bullpen guard Rick Steinman, shared interesting tidbits of history as we circled the entire stadium.
During the game, my thoughts will drift to the three men behind the scoreboard, manually changing each out-of-town score. And how the Bears spent 50 years at Wrigley, all with padding filled in the visitor’s dugout to aid players in an end zone three yards short of regulation. And if neighbors will see a W or L flag for the Blackhawks as they walk by after the game.
NHL, you’ve got me. Not that you didn’t before.
Last year, the league didn’t have a media skate or a behind-the-scenes tour. This year, it’s doing the little things like that to make a bigger impact on the journalists covering the game, as well as fans in attendance and watching on television.
Blue pieces of tape were attached to every seat when we walked through Section 30. It looked odd — until an hour later when we were on the tour and had a view from the luxury suites. As stadium crews removed each strip, a colored paper was placed onto each seatback. From up high you could read, “Red” and a smidge of a “W.” By the end of the day, the lower bowl read “Red Wings” and “Blackhawks.” During the pre-game, fans will be asked to flip over the sheets to reveal “Happy New Year.”
Imagine the sight. I always wonder – who thinks of things? But it’s evident that the NHL learned a lot from the experience in Buffalo and took the initiative to improve an already magical event.
But a lot of that magic last year for me came in the form of a Buffalo blizzard. The original artist’s rendering of the day depicts flakes falling across Wrigley, as does the Harry Carey commercial and the Patrick Kane banner draped along Addison. Today’s conditions called for sunglasses (the sunshine was actually bleeding the blue lines), which doesn’t provide the visual the NHL was dreaming up. But there’s still hope – as I write this, snow is falling in Wrigleyville, and The Weather Channel predicts snowfall at 3 p.m. CT on game day.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Mother Nature’s cooperation on that one. From what I’ve seen so far, the NHL has already done its part.