As 2011 comes to a close, the hockey world shifts its collective attention towards Citizens Bank Park, where the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers will square off in the fifth annual NHL Winter Classic on January 2.
New York and Philadelphia—both members of the Atlantic Division—match up well against each other. The two are firmly cemented in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, each very capable of bringing home the Stanley Cup this spring.
Considering the magnitude of this game, it's important to analyze the individual players that will affect the outcome the most. And with the Winter Classic being played outside, it's also important to note the differences between this particular contest and those that take place in the comfortable confines of indoor arenas.
Projected to be a bruising game between two bitter rivals, fans can expect a high level of physicality on Monday. The Winter Classic requires less finesse and more grit than the typical NHL clash, and that must be taken into account when predicting who will have the biggest impact.
And with that, let us examine the 15 most important players in the 2012 Winter Classic.