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The NHL Winter Classic

The NHL’s hockey Winter Classic was introduced recently — in 2008 — but thanks to the “warm” reception it received from fans, it is by no means premature to describe this event as a classic.

The NHL classic game is played once a season, typically on Jan. 1. Despite competition from college football bowl games (and perhaps New Year’s Eve hangovers), TV viewership has been consistently high, and attendance figures are among the highest in NHL history. In fact, the announced attendance for the 2014 Winter Classic — pitting the Detroit Red Wings against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor — reached 105,491. That ranks second in all-time attendance for a hockey game. As of early December 2018, the 2008 Winter Classic ranked fifth, the 2011 game seventh, and the 2016 game ninth. Why are these Winter Classic games so popular?

Why the NHL Outdoor Classic Is So Popular

There are lots of reasons why the NHL Winter Classic has made such a big splash on the ice. Here are a few of the biggest:

  • Tradition. Many of the Winter Classic games have featured Original Six teams, which draws interest not only from rabid hockey fans, but also from casual fans who can’t help but be at least somewhat familiar with these franchises. In addition, players wear special throwback jerseys at the outdoor classic game, which also contributes to the air of nostalgia that surrounds the event.
  • Playing outdoors. Playing in an outdoor venue certainly gives the Winter Classic a unique feel, unique (at the time of its introduction) in the NHL, yet still appealing to nostalgia in that many a hockey fan remembers playing pond hockey in their youth. Outdoor play also brings weather in as a factor, which has sometimes been good — and sometimes not so good. In the 2011 and 2012 games, weather caused delays; wind, snow and other playing conditions sometimes put one team at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, watching superb NHL players battle the weather as well as their opponents makes it interesting for the fans.
  • Terrific venues. The venues for the Winter Classic are sometimes as big a story as the matchup itself. What sports fan wouldn’t be excited to watch an NHL game being played in Wrigley Field or Fenway Park? Well, in 2009 and 2010, those were the respective venues. Other games have been played at Heinz Field, Michigan Stadium (as previously mentioned) and Busch Stadium, to name a few. The NHL’s choice of venues, always different from previous ones so far in the Winter Classic, represents another way the league has broadened the game’s appeal to reach new fans.

NHL Classic Matchups

Here’s a quick recap of how the Winter Classic games have played out:

  • In 2008, the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins nipped the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in a shootout.
  • In 2009, the visiting Detroit Red Wings flew past the Chicago Blackhawks 6-4.
  • In 2010, the home team Boston Bruins clawed out a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in overtime.
  • In 2011, the visiting Washington Capitals earned a 3-1 win against the Penguins.
  • In 2012, the visiting New York Rangers outmaneuvered the Flyers 3-2.
  • In 2013, the Winter Classic was cancelled because of the NHL lockout.
  • In 2014, the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout.
  • In 2015, the home team Capitals edged the Blackhawks 3-2.
  • In 2016, the visiting Montreal Canadiens knocked off the Bruins 5-1.
  • In 2017, the home team St. Louis Blues scored a 4-1 win over the Blackhawks.
  • In 2018, the visiting Rangers edged the Sabres 3-2 in overtime.


The 2019 game was scheduled at Notre Dame Stadium, pitting the visiting Boston Bruins against the home team Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks’ three Winter Classic appearances lead the league — that’s the good news. The bad news is, the team’s three losses in as many Winter Classic games is also a record. Faring much better are the Rangers and Capitals, each with 2-0 Winter Classic records.

Regardless of how well the teams have done, the Winter Classic continues to be a big draw for the NHL, right up there with the All-Star Game. It has become a must-watch game on New Year’s Day — a true classic.