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2009 NHL Winter Classic

If the first Winter Classic didn’t make the event a true classic in every sense of the word, the following year’s Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks Winter Classic did. Jan. 1, 2009 saw USC beat Penn State in the Rose Bowl, while Georgia knocked off Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. If you were a hockey fan, however, you were talking about one of the most memorable NHL hockey games ever played.

The Truly Classic 2009 Winter Classic

What made the Red Wings-Blackhawks Winter Classic such a classic?

The Game Featured a Dream Matchup

The Red Wings were at the top of their game, having won the Stanley Cup in 2007-08, polishing off the Penguins in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Final. The Wings had finished the season with 115 points with a roster loaded with stars, including Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom — and the 46-year-old former Blackhawk, Chris Chelios.

While the Red Wings were definitely up, the Chicago Blackhawks were on the rise. After decades of languishing under poor management, near invisibility on TV and generally mediocre play, the team and the fans had been revitalized instantly when Rocky Wirtz took the ownership reins in 2007. The up-and-coming Blackhawks finished the 2007-08 season with a respectable 88 points, just missing the Stanley Cup playoffs. (They would soon do much better.) The Hawks had a number of highly talented players on the roster, including Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook.

Remember too that the Red Wings were still in the Western Conference in 2008-09, making the age-old rivalry between the two teams even more intense than it is today with the Wings playing in the East. The teams, whose homes are less than 300 miles apart, first played each other in 1926. As of 2018, the teams had faced off more than 800 times. (The Red Wings have a big edge in regular-season play; the Blackhawks have the edge in postseason play.)

The Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks Winter Classic Had a Classic Venue

If you’re a baseball fan or live anywhere within 500 miles of Chicago, you’ve probably heard of a little baseball park called Wrigley Field. This storied ballpark, the “Friendly Confines” as it was called by Ernie Banks, has been home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916. With its ivy-covered outfield wall, storied history and setting in a North Side neighborhood with no on-site parking, Wrigley Field is a place like no other for taking in a baseball game. And Wrigley, as the NHL proved, is also an excellent place for taking in a hockey game. Wrigley Field, stage of the 2009 NHL Winter Classic, brought even casual hockey fans to the park or their TVs to watch the game. The very idea of a hockey game being played at Wrigley made the game a must-see event for curiosity seekers and sports fans everywhere.

The 2009 Winter Classic Game

Chicago jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Kris Versteeg just over three minutes into the first period. Mikael Samuelsson tied it up quickly, but then goals by Martin Havlat and Ben Eager made it 3-1 Chicago at the close of the first.

In the second period, consecutive goals by Jiri Hudler tied the game at 3-3, and then Datsyuk made it 4-3 Red Wings with a late-period score.

The Red Wings never looked back. In the third period, goals from Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda made it 6-3. Keith scored a power play goal with 10 seconds left in the game to make the final score 6-4, Detroit.

The teams played to a packed house, with Wrigley filled to the brim with 40,818 fans. Drawing nearly 4.5 million viewers on NBC, the game boasted the biggest TV audience for an NHL game since 1975.

Tradition is a big part of Winter Classic games, and these Original Six teams added to the nostalgic atmosphere with their throwback jerseys. Detroit wore sweaters dating back to when they were the Detroit Cougars in 1926, and Chicago was in sweaters following designs from the mid-1930s.

The 2009 NHL Winter Classic proved the success of the 2008 game wasn’t a fluke. More great Winter Classics were soon to come.