2012 NHL Winter Classic: A Little Slice of Americana

Roman Uschak@@RomanUschakCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 02:  The Philadelphia Flyers take on the New York Rangers during the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park on January 2, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

If you've watched the World Junior Championships this year, or any other year that they've been held on Canadian soil, you've undoubtedly seen the rink-side signs held up by someone wearing red and white that read:

"Hockey is Canada's Game!"

There's no doubt that hockey originated in the Great White North. But those of us from the United States can lay a little claim to the fastest game on ice, and not just because of Lake Placid in 1980.

Lately, or at least since 2008, it's been coming in the form of the NHL Winter Classic. Canada has held several Heritage Classics north of the border, but the Winter Classic has been largely an American deal.

The event can draw its origins from 2001's "Cold War" game between Michigan State and Michigan at the former Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. It proved that you could definitely hold a hockey game inside a football stadium, although it was better to do so in January than in October.

After the first Heritage Classic was held in Edmonton a few years later, the NHL took the game outdoors in the U.S. in 2008 in Buffalo; Sidney Crosby beat Ryan Miller in a shootout in the snow on national television.

The following year, the nascent event visited Chicago, and since then has gone on to Boston, Pittsburgh and now Philadelphia, where the New York Rangers edged the Flyers 3-2, scoring three unanswered goals while also getting 36 saves from Henrik Lundqvist, including a huge penalty shot stop on Danny Briere in the final seconds.

Even without that thrilling ending though, it doesn't look like the Winter Classic is going to be shelved any time in the near future.

The novelty of seeing an ice rink put down at the 50-yard line in an NFL stadium has worn off, but the notion of seeing NHL players compete outdoors against the elements and one another hasn't. Nearly 50,000 people braved the temperatures today at Philly's Citizens Bank Park, with millions more watching on NBC.

Despite the naysayers who claim that the NHL doesn't need an outdoor game every year, people are watching and anticipating the Winter Classic. 

For hockey fans, particularly in the U.S., it's now something to look forward to as much as others look forward to the New Year's Day college football bowl games. And with the Classic so far having been contested solely between American NHL clubs in American venues, it's almost like a Super Bowl for U.S. hockey.

The Olympics are contested only once every four years.  The Stanley Cup playoffs are a unique annual institution that's spread over two months with 16 teams. 

The Winter Classic is just one game, one date and two teams, with the whole hockey world watching.

Canada's game?  Maybe. 

But the Winter Classic is fast becoming our our own little slice of star-spangled sticks and pucks that helps Americans, and all hockey fans, to ring in the new calendar year.