The NHL first held the Winter Classic game in 2008. The game is played annually on New Years Day. The 2012 and 2017 games, however, were the only ones not played on the 1st of January, as they were played on January 2nd. A total of 11 NHL teams have participated in the event.
One thing that makes the Winter Classic unique is that it’s led to other outdoor games in the NHL such as the Stadium Series and the Centennial Classic. It has also inspired other leagues such as the ECHL, AHL, QMJHL, OHL, WHL, USHL, and WSHL to have outdoor games. Even collegiate and European leagues have put on outdoor games.
A Brief History of the NHL Winter Classic
Winter Classic Games
The Winter Classic in 2008 came down to a shootout as the Pittsburgh Penguins took down the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. Pittsburgh goals were scored by Colby Armstrong in the first period with Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby scoring in the shootout. Buffalo goals were scored by Brian Campbell in the second period and Ales Kotalik in the shootout. The 2014 Winter Classic is the only other one to go to a shootout. Like many other outdoor games that followed, the teams switched sides midway through the third period due to wind. The game brought in a total of 71,217 people to Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, now called New Era Field.
In 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks hosted the Detroit Red Wings in front of 40,818 at Wrigley Field. Roughly halfway through the third period a few former Blackhawks sang a version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but with some changes to make it hockey themed. Detroit came out on top 6-4. Chicago goals were scored by Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Martin Havlat, and Duncan Keith. Three of the Hawks goals came on the power play. Detroit goals were scored by Mikael Samuelsson, Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski, Brett Lebda, and two from Jiri Hudler. The goals by Samuelsson and Rafalski were both on the power play. After the game, the rink was opened up until January 4th for public skating. There was a $10 charge for an hour on the ice, which was donated to Cubs Care charities.
The 2010 game at Fenway Park in Boston went to overtime with the Philadelphia Flyers defeating the Boston Bruins 2-1. A total of 38,112 fans attended that game. Boston goals were scored by Mark Recchi on the power play and the overtime winner by Marco Sturm. Philadelphia’s goal was scored by Danny Syvret. In 2010, there was another outdoor game in Calgary.That game was played in February and turned out to be the Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary between the Flames and visiting Montreal Canadiens.
In 2011 the Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals. Due to weather, the game was pushed back 7 hours from 1pm ET to 8pm teams changed sides at the halfway mark of the third period due to wind and snow. The Capitals skated out with a 3-1 win over the Penguins in front of 68,111 fans at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh’s goal was scored by Evgeni Malkin. For Washington, Mike Knuble scored on the power play and Eric Fehr netted two. During the game, Sidney Crosby suffered concussion/whiplash, which would keep him out the better part of the next year.
The 2012 game pitted the New York Rangers against the Philadelphia Flyers at Citizens Bank Park. The Flyers were up 2-1 after two periods. In the third period New York would rally to win 3-2 in front of 46,967 fans. Philadelphia’s two goals came from Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux. New York saw goals from Brad Richards, and two from Mike Rupp.
In 2013 the NHL had a lockout so the Winter Classic was rescheduled for 2014. That event is the only one to be cancelled. The 2011 and 2012 games were postponed to later in the day due to weather and weather events. An interesting thing about the 2014 event is that it was the first game to be hosted at a stadium used only for college football. In addition to that, the other side events including the Alumni Game were held at a rink built at Comerica Park in Detroit. The 2014 event at Michigan Stadium set a record for Winter Classic attendance. A total of 105,491 saw the Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout and nearly broke a world record for NHL single game attendance.
Detroit goals came from Daniel Alfredsson and Justin Abdelkader in regulation. The shootout saw Pavel Datsyuk score Detroit’s only goal. Toronto goals came from James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak in regulation. In the shootout Joffrey Lupul and Bozak each scored. Toronto was the first Canadian team to participate in the Winter Classic.
In 2015, the Washington Capitals hosted the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park. The Capitals won 3-2 and became the first team to win the Winter Classic at home without needing overtime or a shootout. Washington goals came from Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, and on the power play by Troy Brouwer. Chicago scorers were Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. There were 42,832 spectators in attendance.
The 2016 event saw the Boston Bruins host the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal won by a score of 5-1. Boston’s lone goal came from Matt Beleskey. Montreal goals were scored by David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, and two from Paul Byron. A total of 67,246 fans attended the event at Gillette Stadium.
Outdoor Women’s Classic
Something interesting with the 2016 game was an event before the Alumni Game. The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) hosted a game between the Boston Pride of the NWHL and Les Canadiennes of the CWHL. The Pride tied Les Canadiennes 1-1 in the inaugural Outdoor Women’s Classic. This is the only women’s classic to date.
This Year’s Event
The 2017 event saw the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium. There were 46,556 fans in attendance. The Blues defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 and became only the second team to win the event at home. This dropped the Blackhawks to 0-3 in their Winter Classic appearances, the first franchise to lose all three games they’ve been in. A couple things of note in 2017’s game was the comeback by St. Louis. The Blues were down 1-0 after one period and won 4-1. Chicago’s goal came from Michal Kempny. St. Louis rallied to win on a goal by Patrik Berglund, two from Vladimir Tarasenko, and then Alex Steen on an empty net.