NHL outdoor games

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The 2012 Winter Classic at Philadelphia

The National Hockey League (NHL) holds outdoor games under three brands: the Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series.

The Heritage Classic has been held thrice and has thus far featured match-ups between Canadian teams. The 2003 Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens was the first outdoor regular season game in NHL history and led to the annual Winter Classic, held on New Year's Day in the United States. In addition to the third Heritage Classic and sixth Winter Classic, four outdoor NHL games were held in 2014 as part of the Stadium Series.

Prior to 2003, NHL teams had been involved in two outdoor exhibition games. The Detroit Red Wings played an outdoor game in 1954 against a team of inmates at the Marquette Branch Prison. In 1991, the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers played a pre-season game outside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The NHL's outdoor series have proven wildly popular with fans and have led to numerous attendance records. The 2003 Heritage Classic drew 57,167 fans, a league record that stood until 71,217 fans in Buffalo set another NHL record in the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008. The 2014 event, between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs drew 105,491 fans, the current NHL record.


The first outdoor game on record to feature an NHL team was attempted on February 2, 1954.[1] The Detroit Red Wings played an exhibition game on an outdoor ice surface, in 21 °F (−6 °C) degree weather, against the Marquette Pirates, an athletic club composed of inmates at Michigan's Marquette Branch Prison. The game, and the Pirates club, was allegedly organized as a way for Red Wings manager Jack Adams to make good with two convicted mafia members incarcerated at the prison. By the end of the first period alone, the Red Wings had amassed an 18–0 score against the prisoners; score keeping was abandoned after that point and the rest of the game effectively became an informal scrimmage.[2]

Two years after the 1954 prison match, the Boston Bruins went on a postseason barnstorm of Atlantic Canada in April 1956, which included a stop in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland. On April 9, 1956 the Bruins played an exhibition game against teams from the Conception Bay North Hockey League on an outdoor artificial ice surface, under similar rules to those of the 1954 prison match. Four teams each played one period against the Bruins who dominated the game. Only one goal was scored on Terry Sawchuk by the local teams. [3]

During their time at the Civic Arena, the Pittsburgh Penguins could have theoretically hosted an outdoor NHL game due to the arena having a retractable roof. (The arena was originally built for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, who only stayed at the arena until 1973.) However, the roof was always closed during hockey games with both the Penguins and their AHL predecessors, the Pittsburgh Hornets, whom the Penguins replaced upon the 1967 NHL expansion. The roof was permanently closed after 1994 when the Penguins replaced the center scoreboard.[4]

The Flames and Canadiens at the 2011 Heritage Classic

The first outdoor game between two NHL teams (and the first played to completion) was an official pre-season match-up on September 27, 1991. The game took place in the parking lot of Caesars Palace[5] in Las Vegas, Nevada, and featured the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers.[6] The process of keeping the ice cool in the desert heat required three times as much coolant as a standard NHL rink.[7] There were few problems despite temperatures that reached 95 °F (35 °C) during the day and a game time temperature of 80 °F (27 °C).[7] During the contest grasshoppers began to jump onto the ice, where they would freeze or drown in water used to maintain the ice, and by the end of the second period the ice was littered with the bugs.[6] Nearly 14,000 fans watched the Kings defeat the Rangers 5–2.[8] Since 1997, the Los Angeles Kings have returned to Las Vegas to play an annual indoors preseason game as part of the Frozen Fury series.

The first regular-season outdoor game in the history of the NHL took place on November 22, 2003, at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, when the Edmonton Oilers played the Montreal Canadiens in the 2003 Heritage Classic.[9] The Oilers had suggested the idea of hosting an outdoor game as early as the mid 1980s,[10] but the genesis of the 2003 event was the "Cold War" outdoor game played two years prior between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.[11]

In 2005, NBC Sports Executive VP Jon Miller then pitched the concept an annual outdoor game as a television event to the NHL, "but they didn't find the concept workable."[12] In December 2006, Miller found an ally in then-league Executive VP/Business & Media John Collins, who embraced the idea.[13][14] This led to the inaugural Winter Classic game on January 1, 2008, with the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium.[9]

On May 1, 2013, the NHL announced that the Chicago Blackhawks would host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field in Chicago on March 1, 2014, as part of a new series of outdoor games called the NHL Stadium Series.[15] By the end of May 2013, the NHL had scheduled a record six outdoor NHL games for the 2013-14 season: one Winter Classic, one Heritage Classic, and four Stadium Series games.

As of the conclusion of the 2015 Stadium Series, 19 of the NHL's 30 teams have participated in an outdoor regular-season game. 13 cities have hosted the 15 outdoor regulation games; Chicago and New York have each hosted two games. 7 teams have appeared in multiple games: New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, and Chicago have appeared in 3 games each, while Philadelphia, Detroit, Montreal, and Los Angeles have appeared in 2 games apiece. Every Canadian team, with the exception of Winnipeg (who will host the next Heritage Classic), has appeared in an outdoor game.

List of NHL outdoor games[edit]

Bolded teams denote winners

Date Event Site Away Team Home Team Score Attendance
February 2, 1954 Exhibition Marquette Branch Prison, Marquette, Michigan Detroit Red Wings Marquette Prison Pirates[16] N/A N/A
April 9, 1956 Exhibition Conception Bay Sports Arena, Bay Roberts, Newfoundland Boston Bruins Bay Roberts, Brigus, Shearstown, Coley's Point (1 period each) [17] N/A N/A
September 27, 1991 Exhibition Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada New York Rangers Los Angeles Kings 2–5 13,007
November 22, 2003 Heritage Classic Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, Alberta Montreal Canadiens Edmonton Oilers 4–3 57,167
January 1, 2008 Winter Classic Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York Pittsburgh Penguins Buffalo Sabres 2–1 (SO) 71,217
January 1, 2009 Winter Classic Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois Detroit Red Wings Chicago Blackhawks 6–4 40,818
January 1, 2010 Winter Classic Fenway Park, Boston, Massachusetts Philadelphia Flyers Boston Bruins 1–2 (OT) 38,112
January 1, 2011 Winter Classic Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Washington Capitals Pittsburgh Penguins 3–1 68,111
February 20, 2011 Heritage Classic McMahon Stadium, Calgary, Alberta Montreal Canadiens Calgary Flames 0–4 41,022
January 2, 2012 Winter Classic Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers 3–2 46,967
January 1, 2014 Winter Classic Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan Toronto Maple Leafs Detroit Red Wings 3–2 (SO) 105,491
January 25, 2014[18] Stadium Series Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California Anaheim Ducks Los Angeles Kings 3–0 54,099
January 26, 2014[19] Stadium Series Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York New York Rangers New Jersey Devils 7–3 50,105
January 29, 2014[19] Stadium Series Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York New York Rangers New York Islanders 2–1 50,027
March 1, 2014[20] Stadium Series Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois Pittsburgh Penguins Chicago Blackhawks 1–5 62,921[21]
March 2, 2014[20] Heritage Classic BC Place, Vancouver, British Columbia Ottawa Senators Vancouver Canucks 4–2 54,194
January 1, 2015[20] Winter Classic Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. Chicago Blackhawks Washington Capitals 2–3 42,832
February 21, 2015 Stadium Series Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California Los Angeles Kings San Jose Sharks 2-1 70,205
January 1, 2016 Winter Classic Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts Montreal Canadiens Boston Bruins N/A N/A
February 21, 2016 Stadium Series TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota Chicago Blackhawks Minnesota Wild N/A N/A
February 27, 2016 Stadium Series Coors Field, Denver, Colorado Detroit Red Wings Colorado Avalanche N/A N/A


  1. ^ "Detroit Red Wings Head for Prison", The Milwaukee Journal, February 2, 1954, pg. 13
  2. ^ "Red Wings Played Prison Football Team In 1954". GreatestHockeyLegends.com. March 24, 2010. Retrieved February 16, 2011. 
  3. ^ 1956 Boston Bruins tour. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  4. ^ "Home Sweet Dome". Pittsburgh Magazine. 1970-05-02. Retrieved 2013-12-23. 
  5. ^ Springer, Steve (August 27, 1991). "Ice in Desert? It's No Mirage Hockey: Kings, Rangers play in Caesars Palace parking lot tonight.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Huskey, Melody (December 31, 2008). "Kings No Stranger To Outdoor Game". Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Thomas, Robert (August 29, 1991). "1991-1992 N.F.L. SEASON; Gamble Works: Rangers Play In Las Vegas". The New York Times. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Save the Date - Frozen Fury XIII - OCT. 2, 2010 Take A Look Back at the history of Frozen Fury". Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Caurchidi, Sam (January 3, 2012). "How the Winter Classic snowballed". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia Media Network. Retrieved January 7, 2012. 
  10. ^ Dolezar, Jon A. (2003-11-14). "The great outdoors". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  11. ^ "It's Nice Outside—Oilers Stage Heritage Classic". Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. Archived from the original on 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  12. ^ Wyshynski, Greg. “Chatting with NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood about Winter Classic, cable cam for hockey, Mike Milbury and HBO '24/7'”, “Puck Daddy,” December 21, 2010
  13. ^ Brink, Bill. “Winter Classic is a cool concept”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 26, 2010
  14. ^ Dowbiggen, Bruce. “How hockey found its signature moment”, The Globe and Mail, December 30, 2010
  15. ^ "Hawks to host Pens outside as part of 'Stadium Series'". National Hockey League. May 1, 2013. Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Wings' first outdoor game was in prison". Redwings.nhl.com. Retrieved 2013-12-23. 
  17. ^ http://nlhhs.org/1956-boston-bruins-tour.html
  18. ^ "Dodger Stadium to host Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks in January". NHL.com. Retrieved 2013-12-23. 
  19. ^ a b "Stadium Series New York event to feature Islanders, Devils and Rangers at Yankee Stadium". NHL.com. Retrieved 2013-12-23. 
  20. ^ a b c "Blackhawks to host Penguins outdoors as part of Stadium Series". NHL.com. Retrieved 2013-12-23. 
  21. ^ "Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks beat Penguins at snowy Soldier Field". espn.go.com. Retrieved 2014-03-02.