|The NHL Skills Competition has just one rule: Alex Ovechkin has to win.|
The calendar just turned to 2012, but the new year has already seen its fair share of major hockey events. I might be a little late with it, but I've designed a guide to help the casual hockey fan understand what is going on with hockey's major events this year.
NHL WINTER CLASSIC
What is it - The NHL's only outdoor game of the year. It's the biggest regular season hockey event in the universe. ...yes, Ilya Bryzgalov, I'm pretty sure: in the universe.
When is it -
Where is it - Outside in the Philadelphia desert
How it's significant - It makes ESPN SportsCenter...and it's hockey, which is like watching Daniel Carcillo and saying "wow, there's a really clean player:" you don't see that very often.
IIHF WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
What is it - An international hockey event for rising stars between the top hockey countries in the world, plus Latvia and Demark.
When is it - Late December - early January, except for Team USA, who decided not to show up at all this year.
Where is it - Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, making for the first meaningful hockey played in Alberta in several years.
How it's significant - Usually Canada wins gold, unless they're playing Russia and a dramatic comeback is involved...or John Carlson scores in overtime.
NHL ALL-STAR SKILLS COMPETITION
What is it - A chance for the NHL's top hockey players to show off their skills, except for the New Jersey Devils, who do just that at the end of every regular season game...in a shootout.
When is it - January 28th, 2012, two days after Phil Kessel attempts to embarass Alex Ovechkin at the Fantasy Draft.
Where is it - The capital of Canada. ...no, the capital of Canada is not Toronto...
How it's significant - It's a way for fans of the host team to watch the best players in hockey on the same ice as some of their team's own players, and for Ottawa fans to watch real NHL goaltenders for the very first time.
NHL ALL-STAR GAME
What is it - An exhibition game in which players try to score and nobody tries to stop them, except for that one goalie every year who really tries...
When is it - January 29th, 2012, the day after Zdeno Chara breaks his own "hardest shot" record...again.
Where is it - The capital of Canada, which is still not Toronto.
How it's significant - It usually features more total goals than Islander fans see their team score all season.
HOCKEY DAY IN CANADA
What is it - A day where every Canadian NHL team plays each other, and hockey heritage is documented all day long on national TV. In other words, just another Saturday in Canada.
When is it - February 11th, 2012
Where is it - Prince Edward Island (host), all across Canada
How it's significant - It gives Canadians an excuse to stay home and watch hockey all day, which is nice, especially since the 'it's cold' excuse isn't valid this year.
HOCKEY WEEKEND ACROSS AMERICA
What is it - USA Hockey's attempt to compete with Hockey Day in Canada.
When is it - February 17-19th, 2012
Where is it - Anywhere where people watch hockey. In other words, any hockey city other than somewhere Gary Bettman thought it would be smart to expand to.
How it's significant - It gives Pierre McGuire yet another day to explain his philosophies and Mike Milbury an opportunity to prove that he's dumber than Pierre.
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
What is it - A battle of the top NHL teams to see which team will be champion.
When is it - April - June
Where is it - Traditionally, in any NHL city outside of Toronto, Miami, Edmonton, Long Island and Atlanta, although Atlanta is pretty good this season. Something like that.
How it's significant - The team that wins 16 games wins the Stanley Cup, although Roberto Luongo and 70,000 angry Vancouver fans are still angrily petitioning to reduce the necessary wins to 15.
IIHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
What is it - Come to think of it, I have no idea what it is...
When is it - During the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Where is it - Finland and Sweden
How it's significant - It's like Olympic hockey, only less important and without players from NHL playoff teams.