This year’s 2011 NHL Winter Classic will be the fourth NHL regular season game played outdoors in the United States and fifth in NHL history.
The Canadian version called the Heritage Classic preceded the Winter Classic back in November of 2003. The Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens squared off in Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta. The Canadiens would come away victorious as temperatures would dip to minus-21 degrees with wind chill.
The Winter Classic is the idea of NBC VP Sports Executive Jon Miller. Miller pitched the idea to NHL executives, and they immediately embraced the idea.
The first Classic was held on New Year’s Day 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, NY between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres. An NHL-record crowd of 71,217 was in attendance to witness this special event.
The game was an instant success with better than expected television ratings. The game didn't disappoint; it was as if NBC and the NHL had Hollywood write the script. Great playmaking, better goaltending, snow during the game and a shootout finish would add to the drama. Arguably the best player in the world scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. Sidney Crosby beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller giving the Penguins the 2-1 victory.
The next two Classics were played in two of the oldest outdoor ballparks in the country, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston.
The 2009 Classic at Wrigley Field featured the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. This game would feature more scoring than the first Classic, as the home team Blackhawks would lead 3-1 after the first period. The Red Wings would score five times in the next two periods and win the second Classic 6-4.
Last year’s Classic in Boston would feature the first home team to win the game. Played at Fenway Park, the Boston Bruins would host the Philadelphia Flyers. For the second time in three years goaltending would steal the show, as Boston's Tim Thomas and Philadelphia's Michael Leighton would be two of the three stars of the game. Marco Sturm's goal just 1:57 into the extra session gave the Bruins the win.
The 2010 USA Olympic Hockey Team was announced following the game, adding to the allure of the event. The first three Winter Classics were great hockey games that gave the NHL a boost headed into the second half of its season.
This year’s Winter Classic looks to be the best one yet. The game features two of the best teams in the NHL, the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game also features arguably the best players in the world, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
The two teams have a storied and heated rivalry and one that will be sure to heat up the cold outdoor rink. The following are 10 reasons why I believe this year’s Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be the best Classic yet.