The novelty has not worn out. The Winter Classic and other outdoor games always have a buzz.
Since the Buffalo Sabers and Pittsburgh Penguins competed in the inaugural Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008, at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, the annual away game has become the flagship event of the NHL’s regular season. It was such an early success that the league added more outdoor games.
This season, the NHL will celebrate its 100th anniversary by launching the Centennial Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 1 at BMO Field in Toronto. The 2017 Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues will be played Jan. 2 at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Next, the Penguins will host the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2017 Stadium Series on February 25 at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The majority of players love the idea of ââplaying away from home, and fans flock to the sites like it’s the first hockey game they’ve watched.
âIt’s really fun,â said Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who appeared in the 2010 and 2016 Winter Classics.
Outdoor games have become so popular that alumni from the NHL, AHL, colleges and high schools take them out every winter. Even pond hockey tournaments all over North America are sold out due to the revival of outdoor play. And who can blame them? Nothing is more invigorating than filling your lungs with a breath of cold winter air after your first strides on an outdoor rink or pond. It feels like you can skate outside forever.
Whenever players get an extended break during the grueling 82-game season, most like to chill out in hot climates. During the NHL All-Star break in 2012, Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron instead decided to spend five days off on the ponds of Lake Placid, New York. He brought his skates, gloves and stick with him to upstate New York and spent hours playing pond hockey with kids who didn’t recognize him.
Playing hockey outdoors is a special feeling. For the NHL, it’s a big scene. That’s more than two points and the NHL took full advantage of this opportunity.
âIt’s a great experience for the fans,â said an Eastern Conference general manager. âIt’s kind of a hockey celebration and exhibition. Difficult for players to play in difficult conditions, and preparation / buildup is difficult for players as well.
Of course, there’s always the weather challenge at the Winter Classic. Sometimes it can be scenic, with a game being played in a snowstorm. The games were also delayed due to glare from the sun. The forecast for Toronto for Sunday is mostly sunny and freezing, but the forecast for St. Louis for Monday calls for rain and a high of 60.
âEveryone has to face it,â said Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, who played in the 2016 Winter Classic against the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots. âYou just don’t want to be the one to be the victim of it. That certainly plays a factor, for sure. I played at Michigan Stadium when I was back in Michigan State, and I thought the wind had played. a huge role, more as well as the sun. “
There are always concerns about the safety and quality of the ice in an outdoor game. After outdoor practice in the past, players have expressed concerns about the ice, but once the puck falls, few have complained. Overall, NHL ice cream guru Dan Craig and his staff did a terrific job making the ice cream. It’s easier for teams that have played multiple outdoor games – like the Blackhawks (in their fifth appearance) and Red Wings (in their fourth appearance) – because it’s easier to prepare for the elements.
Almost nine years after the first game, the Winter Classic is legendary. Iconic memories were created. Ratings, revenue and sponsorships carried the event. Some fans, and a handful of gamers, might think there are too many outdoor games.
I’m here to say there should be more.