History of the NHL’s Winter Classic

During the last three seasons of the NHL the league has implemented a game so awesome, that it literally makes the NHL the coolest professional sport on Earth. I’m talking about the Winter Classic, which is an outdoor game held on New Year’s Day. Just like football owns Thanksgiving, the NHL can now lay claim to January 1. It was the brainchild of NBC Sports Executive VP Jon Miller, who pitched the idea to the NHL. The league immediately dug the idea and moved forward. It proved to be a successful venture for both NBC and the NHL, as ratings soared.

The upcoming fourth installment should be one for the ages, as Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins face off against Alexander Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals at Heinz Field. In fact, the Winter Classic is proving to be so successful that HBO has just unleashed a “24/7” series dedicated to it. Not to be outdone, our friends in the Great White North will also be having an outdoor game with the second ever Heritage Classic between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadians on February 20, 2011 in Calgary. And, if you think that the Winter Classic is a gimmick without any significant importance, than you should consider that during the previous three games the away team has gone to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose. That should make gambler’s lives easier. So, here’s a look back at NHL outdoor games.

February 2, 1954

The Detroit Red Wings curiously played an outdoor game at Michigan’s Marquette Branch Prison against inmates. It was a comfortable 21 degrees outside, and the Red Wings demolished the inmates 18-0 after the first period.

September 27, 1991


In another curious move, the NHL sanctioned a pre-season game between the New York Rangers and L.A. Kings in Las Vegas. Yes, that Vegas. A temporary rink was constructed in the parking of Caesars’ Palace, and despite the 95 degree weather, the rink held up without any problems. However, by the end of the second period, the rink was covered with grasshoppers who leaped to their icy deaths. In the end, Wayne Gretzky and the Kings beat the Rangers 5-2.

November 22, 2003


This was the first ever NHL regular season game to played outdoors. It took place at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton with the hometown Oilers falling to the Canadians 4-3. Some 57,000 fans endured the −22 °F weather to be part of the historic event, which was to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Oilers joining the NHL and their 20th anniversary of winning the Stanley Cup. The game was preceded by a MegaStars game between former players from both clubs, which included the Great One himself returning to Edmonton.

January 1, 2008


The first Winter Classic game, which became known as the “Ice Bowl,” was held at Ralph Watson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres. The game broke an NHL-record crowd by having 71,217 fans in the stands. Pittsburgh won, 2-1, but lost the Stanley Cup to the Red Wings in six games.

January 1, 2009


Two of the Original Six, the Red Wings and Blackhawks, squared off against each other at the legendary Wrigley Field, which was the first time that the Winter Classic was played in a baseball stadium. The Red Wings beat the Hawks 6-4, but would later fall to the Penguins in a rematch of the previous year’s Stanley Cup.

January 1, 2010


The Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers battled at historic Fenway Park, with a dramatic overtime victory for Boston, which helped spark a renewal in this classic rivalry. This was the first time that a home team had won an outdoor game. Shortly after the game ended, the roster for the 2010 U.S. men’s hockey team for the Olympics was announced. Later in the season, the Flyers lost in the finals to the Blackhawks, making them the third away team in the Winter Classic to go to the finals and lose.

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