The NHL’s Winter Classic’s Road to the Big House Part 2

The NHL’s Road to the Big House

New Year’s Day, long one of the high holy days of American football with bowl game after bowl game, is fast becoming a holy day for hockey fans thanks to the NHL’s Winter Classic series.

This year’s Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor was a huge success.  The  game set an NHL attendance record with 105,491 fans and set records for TV viewership.  More importantly, like many of the Winter Classic games so far — it was a thriller.

Part 2: Outdoor Hockey Becomes a Bowl Game

The initial success of the 2008 Winter Classic made the NHL realize this was an attendance and ratings bonanza and a great way to promote a sport damaged by four major lockouts from 1992-2012 that included canceling the 2004-2005 season.  In addition, a record crowd at the Big House got the NHL’s attention, while the 2011 Stanley Cup ratings success lead the NHL to make the Winter Classic a North American event instead of strictly  in the United States.  As a result, the 2014 Winter Classic was held at the Big House with Detroit and Toronto.


Chapter 5


Now the concept was gaining traction.  Winter Classic games were played at Wrigley and Fenway and the leading junior league, North American Hockey League, began an annual outdoor game . . . in Alaska.

January 1, 2009

Detroit Red Wings v Chicago Blackhawks

Venue Attendance Temp Score

 Wrigley Field


32F/20 FWC

Detroit 6, Chicago 4

From Wikipedia:

The 2009 NHL Winter Classic, also known as the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009, was a specially staged National Hockey League regular-season game played outdoors on January 1, 2009 at 12:36 p.m. CST (1836 UTC) atWrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The game pitted the Chicago Blackhawks, who normally play their home games indoors at United Center, against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the 701st game between these rivals in the NHL’s Central Division. The Red Wings won the game 6–4 despite falling behind 3–1 in the first period. This was the first Winter Classic to involve at least one of the Original Six teams, the only one to date to feature teams from the Western Conference, and the only one to date to not feature either of the teams from Pennsylvania. . . .

One reason that the NHL does the outdoor game is to promote the league on television. The television ratings will partially determine if the outdoor game events will continue. On January 3, 2009 NHL reported that the overnight television ratings had increased 12% over the 2008 game. Nationally, the game had 2.9 overnight rating and a 6 share. In Chicago, Thursday’s game drew a national high of an 11.8 rating and 21 share, with Detroit second at 10.5 and 21 (this despite that yet again, a Michigan-based team was playing in the Capital One Bowl opposite the Winter Classic—this time the Michigan State Spartans). Other above-average markets included Buffalo (whose 10.1 rating/20 share was comparable to Detroit’s), St. Louis (5.3/10), Pittsburgh (4.4/8), Denver (4.2/10), Providence (3.5/7), Indianapolis (3.4/6), West Palm Beach (3.3/6), and Orlando (3.2/5).[12] Each overnight ratings point equals about 735,000 TV homes. On January 12, the final ratings figure was announced. There was an average of 4.4 million viewers of the game on NBC, and this was the largest since the February 23, 1975 match between the Philadelphia Flyersand the New York Rangers

February 14, 2009

Alaska Avalanche v Fairbanks Ice Dogs

Venue Attendance Temp Score

Big Dipper Arena



Fairbanks 3, Alaska 1

From Mat Su Valley Frontiersman

On a starless Interior night, the first outdoor Junior hockey game was a parade of hard hits, fast shots and freezing revelry.  . . . Words like “unbelievable” and “awesome” were continually repeated as players described the game.  “That was one of the most amazing experience of my life,” Fairbanks coach Josh Hauge said. “Just going out for warm-ups and seeing everything… it gave me chills and I haven’t had those in a long time.”

January 1, 2010  

Philadelphia Flyers v Boston Bruins

Venue Attendance Temp Score

 Fenway Park



Boston 2, Philadelphia 1 (OT)

From Wikipedia

The 2010 NHL Winter Classic, . . . was the third edition of theNHL Winter Classic, an annual outdoor ice hockey game held by the National Hockey League (NHL), played on January 1, 2010, as a regular season game atFenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, between the Boston Bruins (the home team) and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins won the game 2–1 in overtime. With the victory, the Bruins became the first home team to win a Winter Classic.   The game was telecast on NBC in the United States; in Canada,CBC televised the game in English, and RDS held the French language rights, while ESPN America televised the contest in Europe. The game garnered a 2.6 national rating and 3.7 million viewers, down slightly from the 2009 Classic. Since there was no NHL All-Star Game in the 2009–10 season due to the 2010 Winter Olympics, which were held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in February, the Winter Classic served as the league’s biggest showcase game of the season.

For this game, the Flyers wore a reverse of their current home uniform, a white replica of their 1973–74 home jersey, but with a black nameplate with white lettering. The Bruins wore a uniform designed by former great Cam Neely in dark yellow with brown pants with dark yellow socks with brown and white striping and a different “B” in their famous “Hub” logo introduced in 1948–49 on their 1955–57 uniforms; brown and gold were the Bruins’ colors when they entered the NHL for its 1924–25 regular season.

February 20, 2010

Binghamton Senators v Syracuse Crunch 


Venue Attendance Temp Score

NY State Fairgrounds


30’s (snow)

Syracuse 2, Binghamton 1

From Wikipedia

The Mirabito Outdoor Classic, also known as the 2010 AHL Outdoor Classic, was an outdoor ice hockey game played in 2010 between the Syracuse Crunch and Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League (AHL). It was the first outdoor game in the history of the AHL as well as the first outdoor minor league hockey game. Syracuse won the game 2–1 with the help of goaltender Kevin Lalande, who stopped 36 of the 37 Binghamton shots, and Alexandre Picard, who scored the first outdoor goal in AHL history. The game was played in front of a then AHL record crowd of 21,508, on a rink constructed at the New York State Fairgrounds on a dirt auto racing track.

The game was the first outdoor game in the 74 year history of the AHL and the first minor league hockey outdoor game. The attendance of 21,508 set a new AHL record surpassing the old mark of 20,672 set in 1997 at the Greensboro Coliseum. The record was later broken by subsequent Outdoor Classics.   For the ceremonial puck drop, a skydiver delivered a puck from the National Hockey League’s first foray into outdoor games from the 1991 Las Vegas exhibition game.


The Big Chill at the Big House

December 11, 2010

Michigan State Spartans v. Michigan Wolverines


Venue Attendance Temp Score

Michigan Stadium



Michigan 5, Michigan State 0


From Wikipedia:

The Big Chill at the Big House was an outdoor college ice hockey game played on December 11, 2010, at Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Michigan Wolverines men’s team defeated their long-time rival, the Michigan State Spartans, by a score of 5–0. In a rematch of the Cold War outdoor game between the teams in 2001, the “Big Chill” set a world hockey record with an announced attendance of 113,411. Guinness World Records, counting tickets scanned rather than sold, announced the official attendance as 104,173. The stadium normally seats 109,901 for Michigan football games.

Chapter 6

Outdoor Hockey Catches Fire

Having made the initial breakthroughs in Canada, the United States, NHL, AHL etc, outdoor hockey then just got bigger and better.  You even had a junior hockey league championship game played outdoors in Mexico City.  It is fitting that as the Canadian Heritage Classic resumed it featured the Calgary Flames since outdoor hockey was on fire.

January 1, 2011

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins

Venue Attendance Temp Score

Heinz Field



Washington 3, Pittsburgh 1

From Wikipedia:

The 2011 NHL Winter Classic (known via corporate sponsorship as the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic) was an outdoor regular-season National Hockey League (NHL) game that was played on January 1, 2011 at Heinz Field inPittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The visiting Washington Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3–1. The game, rescheduled from its original 1:00 p.m. ET start time to 8:00 p.m. due to weather concerns,[1][2] was telecast on NBC in the USA, and CBC (English) and RDS (French) in Canada. At the event, the teams wore vintage uniforms based on Reebok‘s “Edge” template. The visiting Capitals wore a replica of their inaugural 1974–75 white uniform which they wore through the 1994–95 seasonThe Penguins wore new uniforms, based on those of their inaugural 1967–68 season; the navy and baby blue colors were reversed, and the jerseys featured a crest of their original skating penguin logo, in place of the diagonal letters.

February 20, 2011

Montreal Canadians v Calgary Flames

Venue Attendance Temp Score

McMahon Stadium


-6 FWC

Calgary 4, Montreal 0

From Wikipedia:

The 2011 Heritage Classic was a regular season outdoor National Hockey League (NHL) game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames. The game was played at McMahon Stadium in CalgaryAlbertaCanada on February 20, 2011. The Flames defeated the Canadiens by a score of 4–0 before a crowd of 41,022 spectators. It was just the second time in six NHL outdoor games that the home team won.  It was the second Heritage Classic game, held seven seasons after the original. It was also the first time the NHL held two outdoor games in one season, as it followed the 2011 NHL Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. In spite of criticism that playing two such games in a season would lessen the spectacle, the Heritage Classic eclipsed all previous NHL outdoor games in sponsorship. The game’s title sponsor was Tim Hortons.

As with other outdoor games, special jerseys were worn for the event. The Flames uniform was maroon with burnt yellow stripes and tan pants that were inspired by the uniforms worn by the Calgary Tigers of the 1920s. The Flames wore the uniform to pay homage to the first professional hockey team in the city’s history. As members of the Western Canada Hockey League of the 1920s, the Tigers won the league championship in 1924 before losing that year’s Stanley Cup Final to the Canadiens. Montreal wore a classic version of their usual road sweater, the difference was the blue block numbering with the red outline, what the team wore prior to 1997.

January 2, 2012 

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers

Venue Attendance Temp Score

Citizens Bank Park



New York 3, Philadelphia 2

From Wikipedia

The 2012 NHL Winter Classic (known via corporate sponsorship as the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic) was an outdoor professional hockey game that was played on Monday, January 2, 2012. The New York Rangers defeated thePhiladelphia Flyers by a score of 3-2. The fifth annual outdoor regular season National Hockey League game was played in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies with the host Philadelphia Flyers playing against their long-time Atlantic Division rivals, the New York Rangers. The original plan was to have the contest at the Philadelphia Eagles’ home, Lincoln Financial Field; however, the Eagles played there the day before, and the NHL needed at least a week of preparation time to build the ice rink onto the field.  The game returned to its original daytime time slot, with the Rangers-Flyers game beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (two hours behind its originally scheduled start time of 1:00 p.m.). This marked the first time the Winter Classic was not played on New Year’s Day, as it fell on a Sunday; NBC’s contract with the National Football League prevents them from airing NHL games (or anything else) on prime time Sunday night, because of NBC Sunday Night Football,[3] and while NBC has an open time slot on Sunday afternoon, the NFL traditionally discourages its broadcast partners from programming high-profile sports events in competition with its own games, a full slate of which the NFL played on the afternoon of Sunday, January 1.  The game was delayed two hours from its originally scheduled start time due to the expectations of warm temperatures and sun glare. The 3:20 p.m. puck drop provided more ideal conditions, with a temperature around 41°F and overcast skies. Snow flurries fell for a short time during the second period. Ice conditions were mostly excellent with few delays to repair the playing surface, and they compared favorably to last year’s game according to Michael Rupp, who played for the Penguins in the2011 NHL Winter Classic.

An AHL game on January 6th on the same ice between Hershey Bears and Adirondack Phantoms set an AHL attendance record of 45,653.

January 1, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs v Detroit Red Wings 


Venue Attendance Temp Score

Michigan Stadium


30’s (snow)

Toronto 3, Detroit 2 (shootout)

From Wikipedia

The 2014 NHL Winter Classic was an outdoor regular season National Hockey League (NHL) game that was played on January 1, 2014 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The visiting Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 3–2, in a shootout to move past the Red Wings in the Atlantic Division. The game was televised nationally in Canada on CBC and nationally in the United States on NBC. The game set an NHL attendance record of 105,491, surpassing the previous record set during the 2008 NHL Winter Classic. The game was originally planned to be played on January 1, 2013, as the 2013 NHL Winter Classic, but was postponed until the following year due to the 2012–13 NHL lockout. The 2014 Winter Classic is one of six outdoor games to be held during the 2013–14 NHL season, which will include the new NHL Stadium Series and the 2014 Heritage Classic. These six games will serve as the NHL’s premiere showcase games for this season as there will be no All Star Game due to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The Red Wings-Maple Leafs matchup, an Original Six era rivalry, is the first time an American team and a Canadian team have faced each other in an outdoor NHL game and the first time a Canadian team has played in the Winter Classic (prior to this, the Winter Classic was reserved for American teams and the Heritage Classic for Canadian ones). The unexpected high television viewership from the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals (which featured a Canadian team, the Vancouver Canucks, against the Boston Bruins) prompted the league and NBC to reconsider the conventional wisdom that a contest featuring a Canadian team would not draw as well as two American teams; it was this reconsideration that prompted the idea of an international Winter Classic. Because of a divisional realignment that took effect during the preceding offseason, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are also now division rivals; both teams were placed in the new incarnation of the Atlantic Division, which was renamed from the Northeast Division (the old Atlantic Division became the Metropolitan Division). Had the Winter Classic been played in 2013 it would have been the only meeting between the teams, as both were in separate conferences at the time (as division rivals, they will meet 4-5 times a year, ultimately playing 30 times over a seven-year period).


Chapter 7

Upcoming Games

Upcoming outdoor games include the 2014 NHL Stadium Series to be held at Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Soldier Field respectively and the 2014 Heritage Classic in Vancouver.  A New Year’s Day in 2015, the Washington Capitals will host a team yet to be named.

2014 NHL Stadium Series

From Wikipedia

The 2014 NHL Stadium Series (branded the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series) is an upcoming series of four outdoor regular season National Hockey League games. This series is distinct from the NHL Winter Classic and NHL Heritage Classic outdoor games. The Stadium Series games will consist of: the Los Angeles Kings against the Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium on January 25, 2014;[1] the New Jersey Devils vs. the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium on January 26;[2] the New York Islanders vs. the Rangers at Yankee Stadium on January 29;[2] and the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field on March 1, 2014.[3]

Bookending the Stadium Series will be two other outdoor games; the Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2014 NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan on January 1, 2014, and the Vancouver Canucks will host the Ottawa Senators in the 2014 Heritage Classic at BC Place on March 2. The New York Rangers, after the conclusion of their two Stadium Series games, will have played four outdoor games, the most of any NHL team, having previously participated in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic and the 1991 exhibition game in Las Vegas.

March 2, 2014

Ottawa Senators v Vancouver Canucks

From Wikipedia

The 2014 NHL Heritage Classic is an upcoming outdoor regular season National Hockey League (NHL) game, part of the Heritage Classic series of outdoor NHL ice hockey games in Canada. It is scheduled to take place on March 2, 2014, in BC Place, with the Ottawa Senators facing off against home team Vancouver Canucks.[1] It will be the first “outdoor” game to be played in what technically is an indoor stadium, albeit one of a larger capacity than a typical NHL arena; BC Place is a retractable roof venue, and it is unknown if the stadium has the capabilities to keep its roof open during inclement weather (several stadiums of the type explicitly cannot be kept open in such an environment due to drainage concerns). The game will be televised nationally in Canada on CBC and nationally in the United States on NBCSN


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