By: Franklin Heinzmann
Feature Image by: Franklin Heinzmann
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. – It was unlike any hockey game. The Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers faced off, and rang in the new year, in the 2018 Winter Classic. Events that took place during the game proved why sports remains unmatched in bringing people together, instead of dividing them.
It was played at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, a baseball team. Not only was it played in front of 40,000 fans, nearly double the capacity of an average hockey arena, it was one of the coldest outdoor hockey games on record. The thermometer read 20 degrees Fahrenheit at puck drop as furious winds swirled all game, dropping the temperature to single digits. Fans were dressed in layers upon layers to see their team play in (taking all fanfare out of it) just another regular season game. Rangers fans from New York City attending the game had nearly 40 other chances to support their Rangers in the comfort of the Madison Square Garden but no, thousands of Rangers fans essentially turned down nirvana to watch their beloved team while risking hypothermia.
The devotion of hockey fans wasn’t just evident in the Rangers fans at Citi Field. There was a comradery shared amongst my friends and I, and the other Sabres fans that were also sitting a few rows from the rink, who made the 400-mile trek to New York City. If driving 400 miles to sit in single digit temperatures for a regular season hockey game isn’t devotion, I don’t know what is.
I remember just how proud we were when we saw our Sabres score twice. And just how piercing the cheers of the freezing fans in Citi Field were after Rangers fans saw their team score three times. The Rangers third goal was scored in overtime, securing the 3-2 victory. In the moment of nearly 40,000 people simultaneously going berserk after the Rangers scored in overtime, I had found some gratification. It was that moment, the climax of the experience, that I realized 40,000 people braved the elements for a common cause: a hockey game. Most of them were rewarded for their courageous efforts and celebrated, while some (my friends and I included) were left hanging… and frozen.
From an analytical perspective, the Rangers beat a hockey team that ended up being the first team in NHL history to finish 31st (technically an all-time low) in game 39 of 82 in the regular season. On a regular occasion, Rangers fans would’ve breathed a sigh of relief and moved on, and Sabres fans would’ve been relieved that their team squeaked out a point as a result of losing in overtime. But this was unlike any hockey game.