NHL's groundbreaking Big City Greens Classic a resounding success

The nationally broadcasted event was a hit with young and old fans alike.

History was made in the NHL on Tuesday night. It wasn’t a milestone goal or a defining victory, but a first-of-its-kind live hockey game animated in real-time and broadcasted nationally.

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ESPN recreated Tuesday's game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the style of Disney animated series “Big City Greens,” in an effort to draw in younger crowds and grow the league's national audience.

The NHL held its first ever Big City Greens Classic on Tuesday, animating an NHL game in real-time with characters from the popular Disney show. (Photo via NHL)
The NHL held its first ever Big City Greens Classic on Tuesday, animating an NHL game in real-time with characters from the popular Disney show. (Photo via NHL)

Both goaltenders were replaced on the broadcast by characters Gramma Alice and Bill, while Cricket Green and Tilly Green stepped in for a player on each team. The iconic ice surface at MSG was replaced by a sheet in Big City Greens' "Times Circle," and an animated chicken was favoured over human referees.

We even saw Patrick Kane’s first goal in MSG as he made his way down the ice in animated form, rifling one past Bill — I mean, Darcy Kuemper — on the power play to extend the Rangers' lead in the first period.

Big hits were accompanied by a “boom” graphic, post-whistle scrums were represented by a dust ball, and there were also educational segments on Alex Ovechkin’s climb to beat the all-time goal record and even an explanation of the offside rule. The broadcast had it all, including analyst Kevin Weekes hooked up to a motion-capture suit as he called the game and did the intermission segments.

The broadcast used NHL Edge Technology to track play through the puck and players' jerseys and recreate the action in the Big City Greens universe. However, the chips on the jerseys do not track body part movement, which means producers had to rely on the technology to indicate how players used their sticks and determine where the puck was in relation to that positioning. The game also included "puck visuals", with the puck creating a streak as it slid around the ice.

The virtual broadcast included 49 different camera angles, and introduced a goal horn for the visiting Capitals as well, as the virtual event was held in a "neutral" site.

That is some incredible commitment to have a family-friendly programming tied to a popular cartoon. And the bit seemed to work, as families tuned into the nationally televised game and praised ESPN for putting together such a unique and groundbreaking broadcast.

So, what’s next? Will we see Disney expand its reach and have a Marvel-themed NHL broadcast? Will we see The Simpsons get in on the action and entertain the generation that grew up with the iconic show? The possibilities seem endless now, and not just with the broadcast, but the ability to successfully track players and the puck was put on full display as well.

The Rangers would come away with a 5-3 win in front of their home fans, led by Mika Zibanejad's two-goal night.

We’ll just have to wait and see, but the Big City Greens Classic can be considered a huge success.