A 2012 Winter Classic Game in Citizens' Bank Park
Well, we are in the throes of summer. Since it’s quite hot in my hometown, what better way to think cool thoughts than to posit about outdoor hockey?
This January, the NHL is having a record number of games in football or baseball stadiums: five. This includes the 2014 Winter Classic at The Big House, the 2014 Heritage Classic at BC Place (which has a roof) and Stadium Series games in Chicago, New York (twice) and Los Angeles.
It’s not too early to start thinking about where the NHL should look for Winter Classic host stadiums for 2015, 2016 and beyond. Here are eight venues that haven’t hosted an NHL game before that could potentially host.
For each, I’m suggesting a matchup, bearing in mind that all but two outdoor games have featured either the Pittsburgh Penguins or an Original Six franchise, but relatively few have been rivalry games.
Unless specified, capacity of the stadium is for football or soccer.
First off, I’m ruling out any stadium that’s already hosted, or is slated to host in 2014, for consideration in this one. To review, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park, Commonwealth Stadium and McMahon Stadium have all hosted a game.
Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Soldier Field and BC Place will host next winter. Michigan Stadium has both hosted in the past, and will host again.
Could one of these stadiums be tapped for a second or third go ‘round? Maybe, but that’s not the thrust of this article.
I’ve also ruled out the “Sunbelt” cities of the NHL. The Winter Classic is supposed to be played in snow. In addition, Los Angeles will host an outdoor game this year. Dallas, Phoenix, Miami and Tampa’s outdoor venues are all spoken for by New Years Day bowl games, and some of those franchises down there don’t have the kind of following to fill a football stadium anyway.
I’ve also ruled out any stadium with a capacity of less than 40,000, since I’m not seeing the point of moving a game outdoors to a stadium that isn’t significantly bigger than an indoor arena.
And, yes, this list is primarily of football stadiums, for the two simple reasons that football stadiums are bigger and have sight lines more in line with hockey rinks than baseball stadiums. It contains two NFL stadiums, four college football stadiums, one MLB stadium and one stadium that used to have MLB but was always more of a football/track stadium.
Seven of the stadiums listed are in the United States, and one is in Canada. Five are in metropolitan areas with NHL teams, and three are not.
Matchup: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Beaver Stadium is the largest stadium in the Northeast United States, has been renovated twice since 2000 and is at a university that is slated to again have a D-I hockey program. It is located halfway between two Pennsylvania teams with rabid fanbases. Another plus to a game in Happy Valley would be an AHL matchup the day before featuring the iconic Hershey Bears.
Matchup: Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Every article I’ve ever done vis-a-vis the NHL has elicited comments that say, “Bring hockey back to Hartford.” Since the Hartford Whalers left for Carolina, UConn has built a state-of-the-art stadium in East Hartford, one that hosted an AHL outdoor game in 2011. Connecticut has also seen AHL success in recent years in Hartford and Bridgeport.
I have no doubt that Hartford could sell out a Bruins-Whalers matchup.
Matchup: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
We’ve already had games in Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, and we’re getting games in Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium. After the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs, the most iconic MLB franchise is probably the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that happens to play in a ballpark that’s only seven years old.
And if this hosts a game, it should be the hockey equivalent to the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry, which normally draws the biggest crowds at Busch. After all, the St. Louis Blues owe their existence to the Blackhawks’ owner wanting to fill the Checkerdome.
The Hawks are also the closest thing the Blues have to a rival and are also an Original Six franchise.
Matchup: Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings
Many of the American and Canadian cities that are decidedly winter sports cities have hosted. One that hasn’t is Denver, a city that has an NFL stadium that’s only 12 years old and an MLB stadium besides.
Since Colorado is a recent franchise, you should pair it against one of the Original Six. Of the six, the Avs’ perennial playoff opponents are the most attractive
Matchup: Columbus BlueJackets vs. Detroit Red Wings
Why should a 100,000-seat stadium host an NHL game when the NHL team in its home city is floundering?
Well, people came out to Ohio Stadium’s archnemesis Michigan Stadium in large numbers, even when its college hockey was being played there. A Columbus-Detroit matchup is essentially an NHL version of a Michigan-Ohio State matchup, and it offers the draw of America’s best NHL team.
Matchup: Minnesota Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets
Besides Denver, the other American winter sports city that hasn’t hosted an outdoor NHL game yet is Minneapolis-St. Paul. Minnesota is full of rabid hockey fans, and it is arguably where U.S. youth hockey is the biggest. The Twin Cities have a new MLB stadium and a new college football stadium, with a new NFL stadium on the way.
While you could do with a number of options here, I’ve opted for a matchup of replacement franchises for teams that moved south in the 1990s.
Matchup: Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators
It makes no sense to me at all why there have been two Heritage Games in Canada, with a third on the way, but none of them have been hosted by the Habs. Particularly when Montreal has a stadium of over 60,000 that’s essentially sitting vacant.
Considering that Canadians love, well, the Canadiens, and that Montreal is the second-largest media market in Canada, the Habs could probably sell out the Stade Olympique 10 or 15 times a season, let alone once.
Matchup: Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks
It’s always flummoxed me that there’s never been an NHL (or WHA) team in the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin has nearly six million people, a cold climate and successful junior-level, college and minor league teams.
At present, Wisconsinites’ loyalties are divided between the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and AHL Milwaukee Admirals. They are united behind a single NFL team, however, one that plays in the most revered (and often most snowy) stadium in the NFL.
And, yes, you heard me right, I’m tapping the ‘Yotes to host this hockey game, though it is over 1,000 miles away from Jobing.com Arena and is actually closer to their old confines in Winnipeg (who actually wouldn’t make a bad opponent) than to the Valley of the Sun. Because, frankly, it’s in the NHL’s best interest to have as few games in Jobing.com Arena as possible.
This is a team that by all rights should be moving to Seattle or Portland, after all.