2012 NHL Winter Classic: Top 5 Potential Future Classic Locations

Jacob Betzner@@JacobBetznerCorrespondent IIDecember 29, 2011

2012 NHL Winter Classic: Top 5 Potential Future Classic Locations

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    The NFL plays games every Thanksgiving Day. The NBA tips off every Christmas. The NHL is taking over New Year's Day.

    The now annual NHL Winter Classic started in 2008 with a game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, N.Y.

    The NHL transformed historic Wrigley Field in Chicago into a hockey rink in 2009, the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers met at Fenway Park in Boston in 2010 and the Sidney Crosby/Alexander Ovechkin rivalry highlighted the 2011 Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

    The Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers are scheduled to play at Citizens Bank Park in The City of Brotherly Love on Jan. 2.

    As the NHL looks for new places to hold its yearly event, many locations come to mind.

    Some locations seem likely, almost inevitable, while some seem almost improbable.

Target Field (Minneapolis, Minn.)

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    A fairly obvious choice for a future Winter Classic is in the Twin Cities.

    Minnesota is a hockey hotbed, and many of the state's inhabitants qualify as certifiably hockey crazy.

    The climate is perfect, as there are already many outdoor rinks in the state, and the Wild even have the perfect name for the annual outdoor game.

    A Winter Classic in Minnesota also opens the opportunity for two western teams to face off outdoors.

    Imagine a Winter Classic game pitting Minnesota's current hockey team against the Dallas Stars, originally the Minnesota North Stars, who left Minneapolis in 1993.

Sports Authority Field at Mile High (Denver, Colo.)

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    There are few Western Conference NHL teams in cities suitable to house an outdoor rink. 

    Four of the five Winter Classics have featured battles between two Eastern Conference clubs.

    However, the chilly Rocky Mountains in Colorado provide an ideal environment for outdoor hockey.

    Sports Authority Field at Mile High is the home field for the NFL's Denver Broncos for at least eight games a year, but could easily be transformed into an outdoor hockey rink for a young Colorado Avalanche team.

    A matchup between the Avs and the Phoenix Coyotes, who usually play in the desert, would be an interesting game.

Comerica Park (Detroit, Mich.)

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    Detroit is another American hockey hotbed begging for a Winter Classic.

    The Red Wings faced the Blackhawks in Chicago for the 2010 Winter Classic, but deserve an outdoor game in the Motor City.

    A matchup between the Motor City and the Music City (Nashville Predators) pits two strong Central Division teams against each other.

Yankee Stadium (New York, N.Y.)

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    There is no bigger sports franchise in North America than the New York Yankees.

    An outdoor game in the Big Apple would attract hockey fans from near and far.  A trip to New York for the game also offers the opportunity to celebrate New Year's Eve at Times Square, one of the biggest parties on earth.

    A matchup between the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, based a few miles down the Jersey Turnpike, offers bragging rights for the Atlantic Division rivals and the neighboring states' sports fans.

Candlestick Park (San Francisco, Calif.)

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    An hour north of San José is San Francisco. Candlestick Park is the home of the San Francisco 49ers since 1971.

    An outdoor game in California seems unlikely, but it is possible. The Los Angeles Kings played a preseason game against the New York Rangers at Caesar's Palace in 80-degree Las Vegas weather prior to the 1991 season.

    Pulling off a Winter Classic in California would be a huge accomplishment for the NHL's mission to spread the game to non-traditional hockey markets. Additionally, the game would likely feature to Western Conference heavy hitters in the San José Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings.

Honorable Mention

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    The Seattle Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917, but left Seattle in 1924. Many Seattle fans cheer for the Vancouver Canucks.

    Even though the Canucks are a Canadian team, a game against the Sharks in a neutral location like Safeco Field in Seattle would be an interesting game for hockey fans and non-fans alike.

    The Winter Classic is all about captivating audiences who might not typically tune into an NHL game, and while a neutral location doesn't fit into the NHL's regular season schedule regulations, the game would be a good story for the league.