10 Places We'd Love to See Host the Next NHL Winter Classic

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2020

10 Places We'd Love to See Host the Next NHL Winter Classic

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    Jeffrey McWhorter/Associated Press

    OK, hockey fans, it's time to get creative.

    Though the NHL began hosting outdoor games just 17 years ago at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, and only made it an annual occurrence in 2008, it's a novelty in need of a jolt.

    The league has followed a perfectly worthwhile script of finding a football or baseball stadium in or near a league city, constructing a rink and packing in several thousand more fans than would fit in any arena.

    The visuals early on were pretty cool. But these days, unless your team is playing, they have become routine, which is why the B/R hockey team made it a mission to make a good idea better by suggesting a few new and different venues to revive things.

    We didn't go too far outside the realm of possibility—no trips to the moon or the International Space Station just yet—but we did focus more on unique venues than existing facilities, which means commissioner Gary Bettman and his executive colleagues might have some logistical issues to work out while getting some of them done.

    That said, they would certainly be worth it in terms of piqued interest, and we will even waive our consulting fee in exchange for some premium rinkside seats.

    Take a look at the list to see where our ideas resemble yours and let us know how we did in the comments section.

    Your move, Commish.

Lake Placid, New York

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Three words: Miracle on Ice.

    It's been better than 40 years, but we'll guarantee fans of a certain age still get goosebumps.

    The U.S. team's unlikely run to gold at the 1980 Winter Olympics tops many lists of the 20th century's greatest sports moments, so it seems natural for the NHL to co-opt some nostalgia for itself.

    The facilities at the old arena may not be up to snuff for an indoor game, so why not get a rink built at or near the site for a mid-winter celebration of domestic hockey's most dramatic watermark?

    And if no existing team-vs.-team matchup makes sense, set aside a weekend to run back the U.S. vs. USSR rivalry, matching American-born players against those from the former Soviet republics.

National Mall, Washington, D.C.

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    Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

    Yes, we know. The Winter Classic was played in Washington, D.C. just five years ago.

    But that was at a generic baseball stadium with no distinguishable character.

    We suggest upping the nation's capital ante with a game played at a site teeming with majesty, significance and sightlines: the National Mall.

    Imagine it.

    Abraham Lincoln gazing down from his memorial on one end, the Washington Monument rising proudly toward the sky on the other and the shimmering Capitol Reflecting Pool providing a stunning backdrop.

    Including the Washington Capitals is a no-brainer of the highest degree, and what better opponent than the team representing the capital city of the NHL's other host country, the Ottawa Senators.

South Beach, Miami

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    Fotoarena/Associated Press

    Bitter cold temperatures with falling snow? Cavernous football stadiums with six-figure crowds?

    The NHL has checked both those boxes with previous Winter Classics.

    So given that league games aren't reserved for cities with single-digit wind chills, how about some warmth?

    Picture it: sand, palm trees, fans in shorts and sandals, concession-stand beverages with umbrellas. Ladies and gentlemen, it's hockey, South Beach-style.

    The technology exists to maintain an ice rink for a few hours in the 74-degree heat that is par for the course for Miami in January, and what better way to rejuvenate hockey in the league's southernmost city than for the Florida Panthers to host the Tampa Bay Lightning in an all-Florida showdown?

    Jimmy Buffett singing "O Canada" and the "Star-Spangled Banner"? Yes, please.

Niagara Falls

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    It's the most famous waterfall in the world, and it just so happens to connect the two countries that host all 31 NHL teams.

    So our question is this: How has Niagara Falls not already been considered for an outdoor game?

    The Buffalo Sabres' home rink is 25 miles away. The OHL's Niagara IceDogs are even closer on the Canadian side, and the entire region is teeming with longtime fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    While it would be colossally cool to play on a natural ice bridge below the falls, it's probably more advisable to build a structure on dry land. So rather than choosing one side of the border as a host, let's build two rinks and let the Leafs and Sabres duke it out in both sweaters for a home-and-home event.

    Tim Horton played for both franchises, and we hear the restaurants that bear his name make a mean donut. So call it the Tim Horton Cup and sit back as the sponsorship proceeds pour in.

Mount Rushmore

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The NHL has no teams in South Dakota, and the nearest Canadian franchise is more than 1,100 kilometers away in Winnipeg.

    But remember, we're going for visuals here, and there aren't a whole lot more striking than four American presidents etched in granite.

    While we're not sure exactly how many fans would be trekking to the Black Hills for a front-row seat, we are pretty certain an outdoor game with Mount Rushmore as a backdrop would lead every TV sports show for days before and after.

    If the idea of the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets isn't enough to move the interest needle for the league, perhaps a "Founders Game" or series involving two—or all four—of the U.S. teams from the Original Six would do the trick.

Times Square, New York City

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The locals call it the Crossroads of the World.

    Absent a pandemic, it's typically chock-full of people at all hours of the day and night. And the city it calls home is host to two NHL teams.

    All that means Times Square in midtown Manhattan is an almost-too-obvious venue for a matchup between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders while the New Jersey Devils wait patiently to call "Next!"

    Several lanes of traffic were closed off in 2009 to create an expansive pedestrian plaza that has hosted multiple events through the years and would provide ideal real estate for an outdoor rink.

    Position it around the New Year's Eve celebration, and who knows? Maybe Ryan Seacrest would stop by too.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa

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    JONATHAN HAYWARD/Associated Press

    From here on out, we're going international.

    And for those non-Canadians among us, here's a primer.

    The Rideau Canal is 202 kilometers long and connects Ottawa, Canada's capital city, to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. The Rideau Canal Skateway stretches along a 7.8-kilometer section of the canal and bills itself as the world's largest skating rink from January through March.

    Given that many past and present NHL players were first exposed to the game via pond hockey, there isn't a better tribute to the game's fundamental stages than having NHLers do their stuff on the canal in Ottawa. 

    Build a temporary structure and sell tickets or just play amid the walk-through traffic and give spectators an intimately authentic experience, complete with pickup games at rinks elsewhere on the ice surface.

    Here's one the players—and we will suggest the hometown Senators against the cross-province rival Toronto Maple Leafs—might enjoy every bit as much as the fans, and they would remember it forever.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    It's not your parents' NHL.

    What was initially a Canadian and then a North American game has been trending overseas for a generation, and it reached a new point in 2019-20 when German-born Leon Draisaitl was named league MVP.

    The Edmonton Oilers superstar is one of nine active German players in the league, and it would be a wonderful tribute to him and the others to bring a game to one of their country's most iconic venues.

    The Brandenburg Gate was a symbol of the Cold War era, during which Berlin was split into western and eastern sections controlled by opposing sides. Traffic through the gate was closed off in 1961 as the Berlin Wall was constructed and wasn't opened until the wall was demolished 28 years later.

    An outdoor venue with the gate as a backdrop would not only honor the game's modern international flavor, but it would also serve as a reminder of the dangers of isolationism and the value of global cooperation.

    Ich bin ein NHLer.

Wembley Stadium, London

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    Michael Regan/Associated Press

    If global growth is the goal, here's where the NHL can follow the football model.

    The NFL began playing exhibition games in London in the early 1980s and started making annual regular-season trips there in 2007, kickstarting a European invasion that's since brought the game to Ireland, Germany, Spain and Japan.

    And though hockey is already significant elsewhere across the Old World, it's not a major item in England.

    Wembley Stadium could change that.

    Sports fans in England are among the most passionate in the world, so there's no reason to believe they wouldn't give skates, sticks and pucks a try. Bring a game per year to the same venue or spread the wealth to other soccer stadiums as the NFL has done, and you might just be on to the next big thing.

Red Square, Moscow

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    Mikhail Voskresenskiy/Associated Press

    And now, for our last trick, we'll land an ice rink in Red Square.

    OK, there have been hockey games played in the epicenter of Russian power before, but not NHL games.

    The passion for hockey in Russia is beyond question, and the quality of the country's top league, the KHL, is evidenced by the players who have played in the NHL.

    Setting up some sort of an All-Star event between the two leagues would make for an awfully compelling watch, and if you threw in teams with high-profile Russian talent—Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) and Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)—as the main event, it would be a slam dunk for the moment of the year.

    Does anyone want to give Vladimir Putin a one-day contract?