The Winter Classic has turned into a very successful midseason tradition for the NHL, complete with intriguing storylines, cool jerseys and cleverly chosen venues.
However, as my colleague Dylan Robertson rightly points out, there are only so many venues in North America that would be able to support an outdoor NHL game. That number decreases further when one considers that the venue and teams involved must be particularly special in order to boost ticket sales and TV viewer numbers.
When I was asked to come up with a list of the best potential rivalries for the Winter Classic, I immediately thought of the scene from Rocky where Apollo Creed randomly decides to fight Rocky based solely on his nickname and creates a promotional scenario for the event. You all know which scene I’m talking about.
That scene is relevant here because the purpose of the Winter Classic is to be a spectacle, first and foremost. It is an attempt to be as grandiose as possible in order to catapult hockey into the collective consciousness of American sports fans.
After all, there’s a reason why college football is featured more prominently than the NHL at Bleacher Report.
Here are five rivalries (complete with suggested venues) that even the late Apollo Creed would approve of.
As has been well documented in The Mighty Ducks, the Minneapolis/St. Paul area loves their hockey and would make for an excellent host of the Winter Classic.
The likely venue would be Target Field, a brand-spanking new facility that was ranked in 2010 by ESPN the Magazine as the best stadium experience in North America. Not too shabby.
Although the Winter Classic has featured only American teams in the past, it would make the most sense for the Minnesota Wild to face the Vancouver Canucks as they are their biggest rival.
Regardless of whether the NHL wants to focus on Heatley/Koivu versus the Sedin twins or take a classic Canada versus the USA approach in its marketing scheme, an outdoor game between these teams would undoubtedly produce a hard-fought, highly entertaining game of hockey.
Perhaps the only issue with this Winter Classic would be the jerseys each team would choose to wear. The Dallas Stars own the rights to the Minnesota North Stars jersey, which would be the obvious choice for the Wild to wear in a Winter Classic. And some of the vintage Canucks jerseys look absolutely awful.
But at least the game itself would be awesome.
A matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers at MetLife Stadium would bring two of the nastiest NHL fan bases together in one of the best football stadiums in America.
Sure, the Flyers have already played in one Winter Classic and are hosting another this year, but their style of hockey is high-scoring and hard-hitting—two qualities that work well when a national audience is watching.
The biggest challenge would be attendance, as the Devils were ranked 24th in average attendance last season. However, the allure of hosting a special outdoor game might help to entice more fans to come out.
Plus, there would be another opportunity for fans to tailgate in front of MetLife Stadium before the game, which is always a good time.
This is a Winter Classic matchup that may actually end up happening, as MLive.com reports that the Detroit Red Wings are in discussions with the NHL about hosting an outdoor game in either 2013 or 2014.
One of the proposed venues is Michigan Stadium, with a capacity of 109,901. The prospect of filling that stadium and breaking the all-time NHL attendance record is enough to make Gary Bettman salivate with glee.
The opponent that makes the most sense would be the Colorado Avalanche, as the Red Wings already played a Winter Classic in 2009 against their Original Six rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The game itself probably won’t be a rough game like the days when Chris Osgood and Patrick Roy would duke it out at centre ice. Instead, it’ll probably be a fast-paced game showcasing the very young and very old of the NHL, as the two teams are at the opposite ends of the average age spectrum.
While this game would likely be dubbed a Heritage Classic instead of a Winter Classic (as has been the case for the two previous outdoor games featuring Canadian teams), one thing is clear: It would definitely be a classic.
Loads of children across Canada playing pond hockey, road hockey or shinny hockey have imagined themselves as their favourite Leaf or Hab, crossing the blue line and scoring the winning goal for their team. An outdoor game between the two teams would provide a tableau for that dream.
Two of the most storied franchises in the game, showcasing the longest and biggest rivalry in hockey in an outdoor format? Looks like a win.
However, there are two issues.
The first is whether Americans would care enough to tune in and watch (probably not).
The second issue is the seating capacity of BMO Field, the home of Toronto FC, as it only seats 23,000 (the Air Canada Centre seats 18,819). There would likely have to be seats added for the event. Given that the new owners of the Leafs will be looking to make a decent profit from their investment, that shouldn’t be a problem.
This game certainly has dollar signs written all over it.
New York versus Boston, in the new incarnation of the most storied ballpark ever, Yankee Stadium. It’s a wonder this game hasn’t happened yet, although according to YES the Yankees tried to bring a Winter Classic there three years ago.
Unfortunately, conflicts with college football forced the idea to be shelved.
For a three-year stretch, the Winter Classic was held in some of the most legendary sporting venues in America—Wrigley Field (2009), Fenway Park (2010) and Heinz Field (2011).
Yankee Stadium will fit well into that group.
Both the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers are surging up the Eastern Conference standings, and an outdoor game featuring these two Original Six teams would be one for the ages. Count me in.