A few years ago, the NHL debuted a regular season outdoor game in the form of the Heritage Classic. It was a smashing success. Seeing as how the NHL has been desperate for success over the past decade, it was then no surprise that this spawned a now (mostly) annual game known as the Winter Classic. Let’s be honest. Hockey started off on the frozen ponds. Outside. And it’s pretty damn cool (and usually cold) for these Winter Classics to be outside, in the elements. But, has the NHL now gone overboard?
For the 2013-2014 season, the NHL announced they were having not just the outdoors Winter Classic, but also another Heritage Classic as well as a new “Stadium Series”, for a total of SIX outdoor games. Are they in danger of milking this to death? Maybe, but maybe not. The fans clearly love these events, and many players seem to get excited as well. Some of these games this year will surely be marquis in nature, or a spectacle sure to generate viewers regardless.
The crown jewel of the outdoor slate is, without question, the Winter Classic. This year’s encounter may be the best of the series thus far. Using Michigan Stadium as the setting for a clash between two Original 6 teams in the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, the NHL is also likely to set the single game NHL attendance record, considering the Big House holds north of 107,000 fans.
The most curious outdoor game of the season? Hands down, that has to be the LA Kings hosting the Anaheim Ducks at Dodgers Stadium. Yes, a warm weather team is hosting an outdoor game. I do not envy the team responsible for making that ice and keeping it playable for the game, that’s for sure. But that ought to be a game that draws in viewers because it is an outdoor game in California, and it doesn’t involve rollerblades.
The other four games? Finally getting an outdoor game at Solider Field will be a welcomed addition, and I am certain the rabid Blackhawk fans turn out in droves to support their team. New Yankee Stadium hosting a pair of games just prior to the NY/NJ Super Bowl in February is going to make the NYC metro area a very busy sports town for that week. And then the Heritage Classic in Vancouver, one of two outdoor matchups (the other being the Soldier Field affair), taking place right after the NHL resumes it’s schedule following the Sochi Olympics.
As if the 2013-14 outdoor games weren’t enough, the Washington Capitals have already been announced as the host for the 2015 Winter Classic-news that generally comes out around the time right before the current season’s WC game. And, rumblings that the league will hold a similar number of outdoor games for the 2014-15 season. There are surely a few outdoor games (or venues) that would be ideal for taking in another Winter Classic, so here are just a few of my wish list.
1- Beaver Stadium, Penguins versus Flyers. This one has been rumored or wished for pretty much since the NHL entertained the idea of outdoor games. I think this one may be a challenge to pull off, but it just makes too much sense to not happen. Supposedly, the Flyers are in the running to take on the Caps in the ’15 Winter Classic, which would make it unlikely that the state rivals go at it for a ’16 Winter Classic (not to mention the fact that between the Flyers and Penguins, they’ve been a participant in four of the six Classics thus far). Making this one a Heritage game could work, though.
2-Gillette Stadium, Bruins versus Maple Leafs. OK, fine, Boston hosted a Classic already, but it was at Fenway. Given that they just hosted one, this is most definitely unlikely any time soon. Also, the fact that the Patriots are a likely bet to be playing into January, if the venue were to be considered, it would have to be a non-Classic event.
3-Notre Dame Stadium, Anyone. I would assume the Blackhawks, due to their proximity to South Bend. This is absolutely dream territory here, but how cool would it be to see the iconic stadium hosting an NHL outdoor game?
4-Minnesota. Whether you do it at the Gophers new stadium or at Target Field, it’s really hard to imagine that you’ve had as many outdoor games as you’ve had, and not a single one has made it to Minnesota. After games in Washinton, Los Angeles and other sites not really north, I am sure the NHL ice making crew would do cartwheels to land a game in frigid Minnesota.
5-Canada. Yes, I know that’s very generic, but thats kind of the point. Fine, the 2014 Heritage is in Vancouver, and the prior two were also north of the border (Edmonton and Calgary). But that still leaves two other Canadian cities-Montreal and Toronto-that have passionate fans and a rich hockey history. If they can find a suitable venue, these games should happen. And, just for kicks, why not an outdoor game in Quebec?
6-Mile High Classic. OK, fine, they won’t call it that (or will they?), and the odds of Mile High being unused in January is hard to predict over the next few years, but it would be a seemingly ideal environment for an outdoor game, allowing the Avs to host.
7-Cowboys Stadium-Stars hosting ? Jerry Jones built an insane football palace, but his ego likes attracting big events. Wouldn’t be hard to imagine Jones wanting to use his stadium to break the single game attendance record, assuming it’s set in January 2014 at the Big House.
If the rumors of an expanded outdoor slate again for next season, and potentially beyond, I would say the odds are pretty good at least a few of those 7 come to fruition.