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NHL Winter Classic - A New January 1st Tradition
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NHL Winter Classic
NHL Winter Classic - A Great Way to Showcase Hockey
The first NHL Winter Classic was held on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, featuring two up and coming franchises in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the hometown Buffalo Sabres. Over 71,000 braved the wintery elements to see Pittsburgh win in an overtime shootout 2-1.
It was the second ever regular season NHL game held outdoors. The Heritage Classic took place on November 22, 2003 at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium saw the hometown Edmonton Oilers face the Montreal Canadiens. A crowd of over 57,000 saw the Canadiens defeat the Oilers 4-3.
The event in Buffalo was so popular the NHL decided to make it a regular event. On January 1, 2009, the NHL Winter Classic was held at historic Wrigley Field in Chicago featuring two "Original Six" teams and bitter division rivals in the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. Over 40,000 fans attended the game and the Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks 6-4.
The 2010 NHL Winter Classic will be played at historic Fenway Park in Boston as the Boston Bruins take on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Since the game is played outdoors, there is one slight rule change implemented in the game. Normally, teams skate twice in one direction of the ice and one on the other direction. In the Winter Classic, the teams stop at the 10 minute mark of the 3rd Period to change directions. This is mainly due to effects of the wind at the outdoor rink.
One interesting tidbit is that Goaltender Ty Conklin has participated and started in the first three outdoor games. Conklin was in net for Edmonton in 2003, Pittsburgh in 2008, and Detroit in 2009. This year, Conklin will not make it four in a row since he now plays for the St. Louis Blues.
Also, the teams will wear throwback jerseys for the game. It will continue this year as it has for the past NHL Winter Classic games.
The NHL Winter Classic is a ratings winner for television. The 2009 NHL Winter Classic saw the highest television ratings ever for hockey in over 30 years.
It is a smart move for the NHL to stage the game on January 1st especially for a sport looking for more exposure in the United States. While there are several college football bowl games being played, most fans want to see a game with some substance and meaning. Also what helps the NHL Winter Classic is that the featured BCS bowl games take place later in the day like the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.
The NHL Winter Classic being held in Boston is great for hockey and the NHL. Boston is an Original Six team that has been playing very well in the last couple of years winning their division. Also, Boston is a major hockey hub in the United States. Countless number of American-born NHL players grew up in the Boston area.
Expect a crowd of 35,000 or more to attend the game. The NHL Winter Classic is a great event and will become bigger and better in years to come.