This is the best time of year, full of good friends, good food, and great hockey.
The Christmas-New Years’ window is like a bonus round for hockey. Not only is there the usual slate of National Hockey League games to watch but also the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
This year’s outdoor spectacle is in my stomping grounds, Washington, D.C., at Nationals Park baseball stadium, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol building. While the Nation’s Capital’s weather isn’t likely to provide the winter wonderland snow-globe scene that was last year’s outdoor game at massive Michigan Stadium or the frozen tundra feel of the 2008 contest at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, the D.C. event should be picturesque nonetheless.
And the game should be good. The Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks are two weather-tested teams – the ‘Hawks played the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009 and the Caps skated in a slightly rainy affair against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in 2011. And both are jockeying to improve their positions within their NHL divisions.
Chicago leads the NHL’s Central Division but is looking to create distance for itself from the surprisingly strong second-place Nashville Predators. After a shaky start to the 2014-15 season, the Capitals are tied with the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and trying to climb the Eastern Conference ladder for better playoff position.
If the Winter Classic and the rest of the NHL schedule isn’t enough to cure your holiday hockey jones, there’s the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.
It’s a 10-nation tournament that kicks off Dec. 26 at the Bell Centre in Montreal and the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The NHL Network will televise 28 games between Dec. 26 and the Gold Medal game on Jan. 5.
Consider the tournament the holiday Ghost of NHL Future. A healthy number of players in the tournament will likely be chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft. Team Canada’s Connor McDavid, a forward for the Erie Otters on the Ontario Hockey League, is the presumptive No.1 pick at the June 26-27 draft at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
The World Junior teams will also feature several players who are under 20 years old who are alums of the 2014 and 2013 drafts. Three players on Team Canada are graduates of the 2013 draft: Forward Anthony Duclair and defensemen Madison Bowey and Darnell Nurse.
Duclair, a speedy sniper who played for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was a third-round pick of the New York Rangers. He began the 2014-15 season on Broadway, making the NHL as a 19-year-old and earning the nickname “The Duke” from the Madison Square Garden faithful.
Bowey, the only right-hand shot on Team Canada’s defense, plays for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. He was drafted in the second round by the Capitals in 2013.
Nurse, captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, was the Edmonton Oilers’ first round pick in 2013, the seventh player chosen overall in that draft. Nurse hails from a sports family: his father played in the Canadian Football League, mother played college hoops in Canada, younger sister plays basketball for the University of Connecticut, and a cousin is a standout on the University of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team. He’s also the nephew of retired National Football League star quarterback Donovan McNabb.
If the world junior championship isn’t enough, catch the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Six teams will compete in the world’s oldest invitational hockey tournament beginning Dec. 26: Team Canada, host HC Davos, KHL Medvescak Zagreb of Croatia, HC Salavant Yulaev Ufa of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, Jokerit Helsinki of Finland, and Geneve Servette HC of Switzerland, the defending cup champion. Canada’s TSN and TSN2 are broadcasting the tournament live.
Besides seeing some of the most colorful hockey jerseys on the planet – European players are skating billboards with advertising on their jerseys and gear – you’ll see some familiar NHL faces on some of the teams.
Team Canada is coached by Guy Boucher, the former head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Members of his squad includes former Philadelphia Flyers/Chicago Blackhawks/Phoenix Coyotes/Calgary Flames/San Jose Sharks/Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jim Vandermeer; former Flyers defenseman Ryan Parent; former New York Islanders/Vancouver Canucks forward Jeff Tambellini; and former Edmonton Oilers forward Marc-Antoine Pouliot.
Several players of color will participate in the tournament including Zagreb’s Oyuwa and forward Edwin Hedberg.
And if the Spengler Cup doesn’t quench the hockey thirst, head to the rink, lace up the skates, put the gear on, and play yourself.