NHL Winter Classic
|National Hockey League|
|First played||January 1, 2008|
|Most Appearances||2: Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers|
|Most Recent||2012 NHL Winter Classic|
|Most Recent Winner||New York Rangers|
The NHL Winter Classic is an event held by the National Hockey League (NHL) on or around New Year's Day in which a regular-season hockey game is played outdoors, in an area with a resident NHL team. The first Winter Classic was held in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium outside of Buffalo, NY between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. The event featured only American teams for its first five years. The 2014 game will feature its first Canadian team, as the Toronto Maple Leafs are scheduled to play against the Detroit Red Wings. To date, the Winter Classic has been contested only in the United States; a Canadian counterpart is the NHL Heritage Classic, which is held in Canada.
Bolded teams denote winners
|Year||Site||Away Team||Home Team||Score||Attendance|
|2008||Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York (football)||Pittsburgh Penguins||Buffalo Sabres||2–1 (SO)||71,217|
|2009||Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois (baseball)||Detroit Red Wings||Chicago Blackhawks||6–4||40,818|
|2010||Fenway Park, Boston, Massachusetts (baseball)||Philadelphia Flyers||Boston Bruins||1–2 (OT)||38,112|
|2011||Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (football)||Washington Capitals||Pittsburgh Penguins||3–1||68,111|
|2012||Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (baseball)||New York Rangers||Philadelphia Flyers||3–2||46,967|
|2014||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan (football)||Toronto Maple Leafs||Detroit Red Wings|
The Winter Classic as a television event was presented by NBC Sports Executive VP Jon Miller. He pitched the idea to the NHL in 2004 "but they didn't find the concept workable."1 In December 2006, Miller found an ally in then Executive VP/Business & Media John Collins, who embraced the idea.23 The first Winter Classic was held January 1, 2008, between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The game had an NHL-record crowd of 71,217 fans in attendance. The success of the 2008 NHL Winter Classic led the NHL to schedule a second one for 2009, held at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, on January 1, 2009, matching the Detroit Red Wings against the Chicago Blackhawks. That game had the highest American television ratings of any hockey game in 33 years.
The third Winter Classic was held at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 1, 2010, featuring the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The result was a 2–1 overtime win for Boston. The 2011 game was played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals with Washington winning 3–1.
The fifth Winter Classic was held at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 2, 2012, featuring the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. The result was a 3–2 win for New York.
Weather has proven to affect the game, with the 2011 and 2012 classics being delayed due to rain and other weather. Outdoor effects of wind and sun glare may give an unfair advantage to one team, so the NHL sometimes modifies the third and overtime periods. In this case, play is stopped at the midway point and teams switch directions. This option was exercised in 2008 and again in 2011.
The Winter Classic was made a permanent part of the NHL schedule through at least January 1, 2021 as part of the league's television contract, initially with NBC and Versus, then just NBC after Comcast (the parent company of Versus) bought NBC and merged Versus into the NBC Sports banner.
The 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia was not played on New Year's Day, as that fell on a Sunday in 2012 and conflicted with the NFL's final week of regular season games. Instead, following precedent set by college football's bowl games (which move their games to Monday when January 1 lands on Sunday),citation needed and to prevent a weather delay from pushing into the timeslot for NBC Sunday Night Football, the game took place on January 2, 2012. The game was played at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, reportedly would have been the preferred site, but the Eagles hosted a home game on January 1, rendering it impossible to construct the outdoor rink and other structures (the NHL needs one week for the optimum build-out timeframe). The New York Rangers defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2.
Following the 2012 game, media sources began to report that the 2013 Winter Classic would pit the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an Original Six matchup at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The stadium currently holds the world record for the highest attendance for a hockey game (104,073). On February 9, 2012, the NHL made an announcement in Detroit that the Red Wings and Maple Leafs would play in Ann Arbor on the evening of January 1, 2013. It was to be the first time a Canadian team would be involved in the Winter Classic, as well as the first time two teams from different conferences would have played each other during this event. However, the 2012–13 NHL lockout disrupted the season, leading to the game's cancellation on November 2, 2012.4 The 2014 Winter Classic was subsequently scheduled for Michigan Stadium (as consolation for the cancelled 2013 game) with the Red Wings to host the Maple Leafs.5
In September 2013, numerous reports indicated that the Washington Capitals had won the bidding for the 2015 Winter Classic, beating out a bid from Beaver Stadium and the Philadelphia Flyers, among others. No opponent or venue has been announced.6
Ever since the NHL's first regular-season outdoor game, the teams have worn throwback or retro-style sweaters. The retro sweaters worn in the Winter Classic have been as follows:
- 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins: 1970–71
- 2008 Buffalo Sabres: 1970–71
- 2009 Detroit Red Wings: 1926–27 Detroit Cougars
- 2009 Chicago Blackhawks: 1935–36 design with 1948–49 logo
- 2010 Philadelphia Flyers: 1973–74 with modern font for their numbers and a black nameplate
- 2010 Boston Bruins: 1958–59 design with brown stripes instead of black and 1948–49 inspired logo
- 2011 Washington Capitals: 1974–75
- 2011 Pittsburgh Penguins: 1967–68 sweater with colors reversed and crest logo instead of diagonal "Pittsburgh" lettering that appeared on original jerseys
- 2012 New York Rangers: Traditional sweater design in off-white with straight-lined player names and blue numbers with red trim in felt rather than drop-shadow tackle twill. Striping on shoulders, arms and tail is a variation of the ones they currently use, and crest logo a modern variation of the logo used for the team's inaugural season in 1926.
- 2012 Philadelphia Flyers: Traditional sweater design in orange with black numbers and off-white trim. Striping on shoulders, arms and tail is different from the current sweaters. The stripe design was inspired by a sock design the team wore in the 1980s.7
- 2014 Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto's uniforms will be royal blue and white and feature the distinct striping configuration inspired by the 1930s Maple Leafs. The front crest of the jersey will feature a distinct wordmark from the inaugural Maple Leafs' logo, revealed in 1927. The neckline design is taken from the sweaters worn by the Leafs throughout the 1960s and the running stitch detail on the numbers is a tribute to the Leafs' sweater from the mid-1950s.
- 2014 Detroit Red Wings: Detroit will be wearing iconic red and antique white uniforms featuring a striping pattern and arch Detroit wordmark inspired by the late-1920s Detroit Cougars. The front crest on the jersey will feature an early iteration of the winged wheel from the late 1930s Red Wings.8
The throwback sweaters are very popular with fans, and teams have often continued to wear them after the Winter Classic. The Penguins and Blackhawks made their Winter Classic sweaters their alternates the next season. The Flyers went a step further and made their 2010 Winter Classic sweaters their permanent road sweaters, beginning with 2010–11. The Sabres had already been using a variation of their throwback sweater prior to their appearance (that particular season, there were no third sweaters anywhere in the league) and adopted a slightly updated version of the sweaters as their main uniform in 2010–11, while the 2011 contestants, the Penguins and Capitals, wore their classic uniforms as third jerseys in 2011-12.
The Winter Classic has proven to be a ratings success for the league in the United States and is regularly the league's most watched regular season contest (in the US), rivaling the ratings for the Stanley Cup. Its popularity in the United States led to the American Hockey League adopting a similar contest in 2010, the AHL Outdoor Classic, which it has reprised each year since. Both the Winter Classic and the earlier Cold War contest helped repopularize outdoor hockey at the college and university level, and several college organizations, minor and junior hockey leagues hold outdoor games each year.
Despite the overwhelming popularity of the original Heritage Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers in 2003, the popularity of the Winter Classic in Canada is low and declining. On Canada's CBC Television network, the Winter Classic has lower ratings than its weekly regular season telecasts Hockey Night in Canada. This has been attributed to the lack of Canadian teams in any of the Winter Classics and has led to both the revival of the all-Canadian Heritage Classic and the scheduling of the Maple Leafs in the 2014 Winter Classic.
The Winter Classic has been a huge ratings success for NBC, averaging 4.1 million viewers since its inception in 2008. Four of the five Winter Classics rank in the top five most watched regular season NHL games since 1975. The 2011 Classic, played in prime time, beat out the programming on the other three major networks, propelling NBC to victory for the night.
|2008 ||3.8 Million||2.6||5.0|
|2009 ||4.4 Million||2.9||5.0|
|2010 ||3.7 Million||2.6||4.0|
|2011 ||4.57 Million ||2.8||4.0|
|2012 ||3.74 Million||2.4||4.0|
Due to the popularity of the event, every NHL team has requested to participate in the Winter Classic either as the host or the visiting team. Numerous locations have been mentioned in the media as potential sites for future Winter Classics, including Citi Field, Target Field, FedEx Field, Busch Stadium, Coors Field, Yankee Stadium, Ohio Stadium, Gillette Stadium, the proposed Canadian Motor Speedway in Fort Erie, Ontario, and even non-sports venues like the National Mall or Central Park.10111213141516
To date, every Winter Classic has been held at either an NFL or MLB stadium. The 2014 game will be the first edition played at a stadium devoted solely to college football, although a second rink will also be constructed at an MLB stadium for the series of non-NHL events that are traditionally played as part of the festivities.17 In June 2013, officials for Beaver Stadium, another college football venue, affirmed that they were in the process of bidding for the 2015 Winter Classic, with the Flyers confirming they are part of the negotiations.1819 The Beaver Stadium bid was eventually rejected in favor of a bid from the Washington Capitals.6
Football stadiums are preferred, both for the larger seating capacity and rectangular field of play providing better sight lines. However, the NFL season is either in the late stages of the regular season or the early stages of the playoffs around New Year's Day, disqualifying roughly half of all NFL stadiums (the number varies; several NFL stadiums also have domed or retractable roofs, which would also disqualify them from hosting). Although this wouldn't be a problem with the inaugural Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium as the Buffalo Bills currently have the longest active post-season drought in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to request to the NFL to schedule them a Thursday night game in Week 16 (against the Carolina Panthers) of the 2010 season, followed by an away game for Week 17 (against the rival Cleveland Browns) in order to accommodate the Penguins and the NHL for the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field.20 No active NFL stadium has been used for the Winter Classic since the 2011 Winter Classic.
In contrast, MLB stadiums are almost always available since baseball is in the off-season. In addition, if the stadium is available for numerous days before and after the classic, the ice can be maintained and used for alumni or college games. A significant number of the largest college football stadiums cannot be used because they are located in relatively warm climates that make it difficult to maintain a rink for the time required for all Winter Classic festivities. Even without the climate issue, several large college football stadiums also host bowl games around New Year's Day; the league needs at least one week to build the ice and several days to melt and disassemble the rink. As of 2013, as previously mentioned, all six Winter Classics will have been held between teams in an area bounded by the Great Lakes to the north, the Mississippi River to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Potomac and Ohio Rivers to the south (the area where the NHL is most popular and where the climate is generally the most favorable). As of 2012, only three bowl games—the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, the Pizza Bowl in Detroit, and the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.—are held in this territory, and the Pizza Bowl is held in an indoor stadium.
There are also several Major League Soccer and minor league baseball stadiums with the capacity to host such games, which are out of use in late December and early January. One drawback in regard to minor and college stadiums is their generally rural location, farther from metropolitan areas. Also, most MLS and even the largest minor league baseball sites hold only a few more thousand seats than indoor arenas. College stadiums also have fewer luxury boxes and are not as modern as professional stadiums (for instance, Citizens Bank Park was chosen for the 2012 Winter Classic over Franklin Field despite Franklin Field's larger capacity, most likely due to Franklin Field's age). Motorsports venues such as Bristol Motor Speedway (which is hosting the 2016 "Battle at Bristol" college football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech)21 also hold the capacity to host such events, but their expansiveness generally makes for difficult sightlines, and like college and minor league stadiums, they are also generally very far away from major metropolitan areas.
Tennis courts such as Arthur Ashe Stadium and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, although they have hosted outdoor pro basketball games, cannot host the Winter Classic due to the courts' playing surfaces (120×60 feet) being too small to accommodate an NHL rink (200×85 feet).
- Wyshynski, Greg. “Chatting with NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood about Winter Classic, cable cam for hockey, Mike Milbury and HBO '24/7'”, “Puck Daddy,” December 21, 2010
- Brink, Bill. “Winter Classic is a cool concept”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 26, 2010
- Dowbiggen, Bruce. “How hockey found its signature moment”, The Globe and Mail, December 30, 2010
- National Hockey League. "NHL announces cancellation of 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic & SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival", November 2, 2012.
- "2014 NHL Winter Classic will match Wings and Leafs". April 7, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
- Allen, Kevin (September 20, 2013). Capitals will host 2015 Winter Classic. USA Today. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- Shaughnessy, Dan. “NHL's Winter Classic makes every New Year's Day a hockey day”, “Sports Illustrated,” December 28, 2009
- "Rose Bowl among candidates for 2010 Winter Classic". Tsn.ca. January 15, 2009. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Winter Classic Coming to the District?". NBC Washington. December 29, 2010. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Posted: 2:25 AM, January 2, 2011 (January 2, 2011). "How about Central Park for next Winter Classic?". NYPOST.com. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Rutherford, Jeremy (January 1, 2011). "Blues owner pushing for Winter Classic at Busch". Stltoday.com. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- "Winter Classic Headed to Central Park?". Csnphilly.com. January 3, 2011. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Wyshynski, Greg (February 12, 2011). "The top 30 future locations for NHL Winter Classic games - Puck Daddy - NHL - Yahoo! Sports". Sports.yahoo.com. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
- Zwolinski, Mark (November 6, 2012). Planned speedway perfect site for NHL outdoor game, says Fort Erie mayor. Toronto Star. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
- Peters, Chris. "2014 Winter Classic plans confirmed, jerseys unveiled." CBS Sports Eye on Hockey. April 7, 2013 http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/blog/eye-on-hockey/22027230/2014-winter-classic-plans-confirmed-jerseys-unveiled
- Idea of hockey game at Beaver Stadium being considered. WJAC-TV. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
- Carchidi, Sam (June 6, 2013). Flyers vs. Penguins match at Beaver Stadium in works. philly.com. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
- "Bristol Motor Speedway to Transform into World's Largest College Football Venue for "Battle at Bristol"". Bristol Motor Speedway. October 14, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-14.