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Hartnett: Rangers-Flyers Rivalry Could Explode At Winter Classic

'Hart Off The Ice'
By Sean Hartnett
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Last year's installment of the Winter Classic produced genuine contempt on the ice when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals met on New Year's Day at Heinz Field.  To put it lightly, there was no love lost between these two long-standing rivals.

Even though the game was delayed for seven hours, fans attending didn't seem to mind the wait.  They knew eventually they'd witness an event that is special and unique to the sport of hockey.  It was everything that NHL could have hoped for.

There was outstanding action on the ice, some bad-tempered moments between the two teams and the chance for fans to see the league's two most prominent stars, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby renew their rivalry outdoors.

The 2011 Winter Classic gained a 22% increase in viewership compared to the previous edition and was the most watched NHL game in America since 1996.  That could be nothing compared to what might be in store once action gets underway at Citizens Bank Park on Monday.

Rivalry is again the key word as the 2012 Winter Classic draws near.  HBO's 24/7 documentaries have shown just how much the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers despise one another.  The level of trashing-talking has outdone my own expectations and that of my fellow hockey-writing brethren.

Every hockey fan acknowledges the Flyers-Rangers Atlantic Division tug-of-war as one of the most intriguing rivalries in the sport but seeing the completely uncensored verbal jabs on HBO have given viewers a glimpse of what they hadn't seen before.

Where else could you see Brad Richards put little-known Flyer Tom Sestito in his place?  Sestito, a minor-league journeyman was talking a good game for someone who hadn't even experienced a full NHL season as he barked at Richards and a number of Rangers from the Flyers' bench.

Sestito continued to send a number of unprintable words in the Rangers' direction before declaring, "I'm going knock every (expletive) one of you out."

Richards coolly replied, "One day in the NHL for you… fantasy camp for you."  To this date, Sestito has only taken part in 16 career NHL games since he was first called-up by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2007-08 season.

When you type 'Jody Shelley' into a Google search, the first word that appears next to his name is 'Dubinsky.'  Shelley, now a member of the Flyers made an effort to call former Ranger teammate Brandon Dubinsky a "weasel" in front of the 24/7 cameras.  When prodded by reporters for a response, Dubinsky told them, "It won't be long before he's out of the league, because he's a terrible hockey player."

Shelley has put himself front and center with a large target on his back for the Blueshirts to take aim.  Rangers' enforcer Michael Rupp declined to fight Shelley and shouted to him, "You're irrelevant!"

I can't imagine many Flyers fans arguing with Rupp as Shelley has made little impact since joining Philadelphia in the summer of 2010 and has been a wasteful signing by Flyers' usually-astute general manager Paul Holmgren.

So yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Rupp and Dubinsky on this matter.  When watching Shelley play over the past two seasons, he's neither provided adequate grit for someone of his size nor been able to throw opposition stars off their game.

I fully expect these tête-à-têtes to continue on ice at the 2012 Winter Classic.  24/7 has added some extra fire to a combustible rivalry that had already reached its boiling point.  One could only imagine the turmoil on display if recently-waived Ranger Sean Avery was involved...

With both teams gunning for Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference supremacy and a historic rivalry taken to its high-water mark, this year's Winter Classic could easily garner higher ratings than its predecessor.

It's not just the big markets of New York and Philadelphia that are highly-anticipating this outdoor match-up. The entire hockey world is eagerly awaiting the drop of the puck at Citizens Bank Park on Monday.  Expect plenty of drama and fireworks!

Can the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia out-do the 2011 edition?  Will there be some ill-tempered moments between Rangers and Flyers enforcers?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

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