Playing at Stadium was great; now let's not overdo it

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Mark Herrmann Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since

To use a local phrase from here in this noted hockey hotbed, the Bronx: Holy cow! The game between the Rangers and Devils at Yankee Stadium yesterday was more than a game. It was "outstanding," in the opinion of the coach whose team got blown out. It was "awesome" for the victorious Rangers. To the rest of us, it was spectacular.

Let's just not make a habit of it.

The beauty of this new genre of open-air, full-stadium National Hockey League contests is that it is so different. As they would say in other hockey hotbeds such as Montreal: Vive le difference. It was inspiring to watch forwards and defensemen gawk up at the Stadium's majestic frieze (not to be confused with freeze). It wasn't the temperature that gave them goose bumps, it was the roars from 50,105.

About the only thing that can mess up such a wonderful tableau is the thought that the NHL might overdo it. The technology is so good now that they can make ice anywhere. People love these special events -- and by people we include those in the stands and on the ice.

"I think if you ask all the guys in the room, I think this will be one of their fondest memories after their career is through," said Dominic Moore, who scored the Rangers' first goals in their 7-3 rout.

The problem is that these special moments won't be so special if the NHL keeps having them. Sunday's event followed a marvelous Hollywood smash at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night and preceded an Islanders-Rangers matchup at the Stadium on Wednesday night. All told, there will be six outdoor games this season.

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That is plenty. Give us time to savor the medley from the "Jersey Boys" cast and the greatest hits from Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, both delivered Sunday from a platform near center ice. Allow us to revisit the sweep of Devils red and Rangers blue in the upper deck and bleachers.

Hockey must not make the mistake of Major League Baseball, which overfed us with too much of a good thing, stuffing us with six Mets-Yankees games a year before everyone came to their senses.

NHL officials deserve their chance to stand back and revel. The "Stadium Series" extravaganza Sunday put to rest the bromide from skeptics who say, "Sure, Team X sells out Y arena, but there are only 17,000 hockey fans in town." Hockey is a great sport and it has many devout followers. Casual observers do not stand out in 24-degree weather for three hours.

Yesterday had its quirks, which made it even more fun. A pregame glare delay -- too much reflection on the ice before the clouds moved in -- was vindication for the late Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Billy Loes, who claimed to have lost a ground ball in the sun.

Wednesday will be enjoyable, too, what with the Islanders-Rangers rivalry standing on such a magnificent stage. It will be a true home game for organist Paul Cartier, who plays for both the Islanders and Yankees. It would be extremely cool if organizers somehow included John Sterling, whose signature line was: "Islander goal! Islander goal! Islander goal!" before he became famous for "Thuhhhhhhh Yankees win!''

Islanders players will enjoy the uniqueness as much as the guys did Sunday. Moore considered himself a happy tourist, playing catch before the game. Standout Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said, "I've watched a bunch of baseball games here, sat just above the dugout for a few. It's pretty neat to come out and see a hockey rink here. It was awesome."

Henrik Lundqvist found the occasion so special that, when he gave up three quick goals, he thought to himself, "Not today."

Teammate Ryan McDonagh, a baseball fan and player growing up, was moved by "the rich history and tradition . . . the aura that comes with being in the Stadium."

Winning coach Alain Vigneault, who stood behind the bench in the snow without a hat on, said, "It was just a great day. I know we won it and it's easy to say, but it was an unbelievable atmosphere and I'm really fortunate to be part of one of these."

Here's hoping that days like this always will stay rare enough to be great.

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