Ever since the NHL Winter Classic was introduced in 2008, it has been one of the most popular regular season events in all of professional sports. Designed after the Heritage Classic, the Winter Classic has been played on New Year's Day with high regards. Although the Classic has only been played four times, it has only featured USA based teams, while the Heritage Classic features Canadian teams.
With the growing success and popularity of the NHL Winter Classics, more and more fans want to see their team honored in the outdoor game. The teams already featured have been the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008, the Blackhawks and Red Wings in 2009, the Bruins and Flyers in 2010, and the Penguins and Capitals in 2011.
The 2012 NHL Winter Classic will feature the Flyers and the Rangers. Let's take a look at some potentially fun matchups for an future Winter Classic.
This is not only a storied rivalry, the Habs-Leafs game would represent the two largest cities in Canada, Toronto and Montreal, battling it out the first Winter Classic to feature a Canadian team. This is the longest rivalry in the NHL. Spanning 34 years from 1944-1978, the teams met in the playoffs 15 times, faced off in five Stanley Cup Finals and represented some of the fiercest play north of the border.
The Minnesota North Stars had an amazing rivalry with the Chicago Blackhawks in the old Norris Division. Nothing says outdoor hockey like the State of Hockey—Minnesota. Being from Minnesota, I can vouch for this, saying that there is more outdoor pond hockey in Minnesota than I have ever seen anywhere else.
A storied franchise (the Blackhawks) and a team that looks like it's starting to figure it all out would make for a very intense and interesting game. The realignment of the NHL will put the Wild and Blackhawks in the same division, more than likely restoring a long lost rivalry. This old rivalry between cities and a chilly New Year's at Wrigley Field could be something to look forward to.
I know Minnesota is already mentioned, and I'm also from Minnesota, but you can't disagree that this would be a vicious matchup. Imagine the Stars skating out onto Target Field in the old North Stars jerseys while Minnesota Wild fans represent their new beloved team.
Many Minnesota hockey fans are still bitter about the North Stars' departure in 1993, but with the realignment of the NHL putting these two teams in the same division, maybe a tenacious outdoor game between the old and the new is exactly what the Wild fans need. Out with the old, in with the new, and finally some closure for sickened Minnesota fans.
The Battle of Western Canada: A bitter rivalry between the two largest cities in western Canada separated by the Rocky Mountains. Since 1982, the two teams have faced each other in the postseason six times. The two teams are currently bitter division rivals and display some of the most intense, high-octane hockey in the Western Conference.
With the high scoring abilities of players like Jarome Iginla, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, this would sure be a fun matchup to watch. The goalie matchup of Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff would make for a very interesting and intense game. Whether it's a battle between offensive supremacy or between two goalies, this game would not disappoint.
Denver and Detroit are two fantastic cities for the sport of hockey. The rivalry was created between the Red Wings and the Nordiques originally, but once the team moved to Denver, they realized there was still a spark.
From 1996 to 2002, these two teams met five times in the playoffs and three times in the Western Conference Championship, combining for five Stanley Cup Championships in that seven year span.
Although this rivalry isn't as heated as it once was, a game of this caliber could spark hatred, and Avalanche-Red Wings is one of the best rivalries in the last decade.
Mix huge hits, high scoring and playing at a stadium that's 5,280 feet above sea level, and you have yourself a terrific game of hockey—especially on New Year's Day.