There are plenty of reasons why the annual NHL Winter Classic draws unprecedented attention to the sport. It could be the peculiar sight of hockey being played at iconic American baseball and football stadiums or simply the grandiose nature of the event. The first installment of "The Classic" took place on New Year's Day of 2008, pitting the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The game drew an NHL record 71,217 fans and posted a 2.6 television rating, making it the most-watched hockey game since 1996.
The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will face-off in this year's version of the event, set to take place at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh tonight at 8 p.m.
Looking ahead to 2012, no teams, venue or official date have been announced. There is a distinct possibility that next season's game won't even happen on New Year's Day. January 1, 2012 falls on a football Sunday, so it is doubtful that the NHL will want to go head-to-head with the NFL for television ratings on that afternoon.
The NHL has always benefited from experiments to draw interest to the league and magnetize new fans to the sport. From rule changes to the implementation of the shootout, the league is constantly looking for fresh ideas to generate a buzz to the game.
For the 2012 Winter Classic, it is widely suspected that the New York Rangers are due to make an appearance. With Yankee Stadium off-limits due to college football bowl game obligations, it appears that the prime venues to host the event in the New York metro-area would be CitiField in Queens or the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.
An intriguing idea that has been tossed around by fans is a doubleheader to take place on Saturday, December 31, 2011. A likely scenario would be an afternoon New Jersey Devils vs Philadelphia Flyers game followed by a New York Rangers vs New York Islanders battle. Other teams that could be in the mix could include the Buffalo Sabres or Detroit Red Wings.
The New Meadowlands Stadium has the capacity to hold over 82,500 fans, so that would be an ideal location. A doubleheader featuring teams representing three different states in the New York metropolitan area and Tri-state region would be sure to sellout the stadium and notch a superb television rating.