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 at least three outdoor exhibitions. Two of these came in the 1950s and were effectively informal scrimmages; in 1954, the Detroit Red Wings visited Marquette Branch Prison and played a match against the prison inmates in a fenced-off, open air ice rink, while in 1956, the Boston Bruins played a game against several local teams in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland. In neither case was a formal game structure maintained or score kept, as the NHL teams hopelessly outmatched the hosts. In 1991, the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers played a pre-season game outside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, in the first officially sanctioned outdoor NHL contest. 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, and Las Vegas is set to receive its own NHL franchise in 2017.

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.

The Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are expected to play a Stadium Series game at Heinz Field in 2017, followed by a Stadium Series game in Philadelphia at an undetermined location in 2019 or later. The two archrivals had discussed playing a neutral site game at Beaver Stadium at State College, Pennsylvania, but this has yet to materialize, due mainly to concerns about Beaver Stadium's plumbing being unable to withstand an event in winter;[16] the Penguins are still optimistic that a Beaver Stadium game can be held in the near future.[17] On March 6, 2016, the NHL officially announced that the Jets will host the Oilers in the 2016 Heritage Classic during the 2016–17 NHL season, held in October.[18] In addition, the league held a special outdoor game, branded as the Centennial Classic, between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs on January 1, 2017, to kick off the NHL's 100th year.[19]

As of the conclusion of the 2017 Stadium Series:

  • 23 of the NHL's 31 teams will have participated in an outdoor regular-season game. The eight that have not are Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Las Vegas (which will not begin play until 2017 but had hosted the preseason game in 1991), Nashville, and Tampa Bay.
  • 11 teams will have played more than one game.
  • Chicago will have made the most appearances (5).
  • 18 metropolitan areas (out of 28 represented among the league's 31 teams) will have hosted the 22 outdoor regulation games. In addition to the eight metropolitan areas represented by teams that have not played in any outdoor games, Ottawa and Montreal have played in outdoor games but have yet to host any themselves.
  • Chicago, New York, Massachusetts, and Pittsburgh will have each hosted twice.
  • Yankee Stadium and Heinz Field will have each hosted two games.
  • No non-NHL (neutral site) market has yet hosted a regular season outdoor game.

Cancelled games[edit]

The 2013 NHL Winter Classic was originally scheduled to be contested at Michigan Stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Due to the 2012–13 NHL lockout resulting in an abbreviated 2012–13 season, this Winter Classic matchup at Michigan Stadium was postponed and held during the following season instead.[20][21][22][23][24]

The Dallas Stars had originally been scheduled to play a stadium game at Houston's Reliant Stadium during their 2011 pre-season, but this game was ultimately cancelled.[25][26][27]

The Winnipeg Jets announced in 2013 that they had reached an agreement with the NHL to host a fourth Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field, the home of the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, which they hoped to hold during the team's fifth anniversary in 2015–16.[28] However, a disagreement occurred between the NHL and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the game's exact date: the league wanted it held in December 2015 while the football team became concerned that this date was too close to the 103rd Grey Cup being held at the stadium on November 29.[29] In January 2015, the Jets announced that they could not reach an agreement to finalize a date for the Heritage Classic during the 2015–16 season and that they were now looking for a new date during the 2016–2017 season.[30] On March 6, 2016, the NHL officially announced that the Jets will host the Oilers in the 2016 Heritage Classic during the 2016–17 NHL season, held in October.[18]

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[31] N/A 0
April 9, 1956 Conception Bay Sports Arena,
Bay Roberts, Newfoundland and Labrador
Boston Bruins Bay Roberts, Brigus,
Shearstown, Coley's Point
(1 period each) [32]
September 27, 1991 Caesars Palace,
Las Vegas, Nevada
New York Rangers Los Angeles Kings 5–2 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 Wrigley Field,
Chicago, Illinois
Detroit Red Wings Chicago Blackhawks 6–4 40,818
January 1, 2010 Fenway Park,
Boston, Massachusetts
Philadelphia Flyers Boston Bruins 2–1 (OT) 38,112
January 1, 2011 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 4–0 41,022
January 2, 2012 Winter Classic Citizens Bank Park,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers 3–2 46,967
January 1, 2014 Michigan Stadium,
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Toronto Maple Leafs Detroit Red Wings 3–2 (SO) 105,491
January 25, 2014[33] Stadium Series Dodger Stadium,
Los Angeles, California
Anaheim Ducks Los Angeles Kings 3–0 54,099
January 26, 2014[34] Yankee Stadium,
New York, New York
New York Rangers New Jersey Devils 7–3 50,105
January 29, 2014[34] New York Islanders 2–1 50,027
March 1, 2014[35] Soldier Field,
Chicago, Illinois
Pittsburgh Penguins Chicago Blackhawks 5–1 62,921[36]
March 2, 2014[35] Heritage Classic BC Place,
Vancouver, British Columbia
Ottawa Senators Vancouver Canucks 4–2 54,194
January 1, 2015[35] Winter Classic Nationals Park,
Washington, D.C.
Chicago Blackhawks Washington Capitals 3–2 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 5–1 67,246
February 21, 2016 Stadium Series TCF Bank Stadium,
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Chicago Blackhawks Minnesota Wild 6–1 50,426
February 27, 2016 Coors Field,
Denver, Colorado
Detroit Red Wings Colorado Avalanche 5–3 50,095
October 23, 2016 Heritage Classic Investors Group Field,
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Edmonton Oilers Winnipeg Jets 3–0 33,240
January 1, 2017 Centennial Classic BMO Field,
Toronto, Ontario
Detroit Red Wings Toronto Maple Leafs 5–4 (OT) 40,818[37]
January 2, 2017 Winter Classic Busch Stadium,
St. Louis, Missouri
Chicago Blackhawks St. Louis Blues 4–1 46,556
February 25, 2017 Stadium Series Heinz Field,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins TBP TBD

Outdoor games by team[edit]

Team Number of
Appearances Wins Losses
Anaheim Ducks 1 0 1 2014 1 0
Boston Bruins 2 2 0 2010, 2016 1 1
Buffalo Sabres 1 1 0 2008 0 1
Calgary Flames 1 1 0 2011 1 0
Chicago Blackhawks 5 2 3 2009, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 1 4
Colorado Avalanche 1 1 0 2016 0 1
Detroit Red Wings 4 1 3 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017 2 2
Edmonton Oilers 2 1 1 2003, 2016 1 1
Los Angeles Kings 2 1 1 2014, 2015 1 1
Minnesota Wild 1 1 0 2016 1 0
Montreal Canadiens 3 0 3 2003, 2011, 2016 2 1
New Jersey Devils 1 1 0 2014 0 1
New York Islanders 1 1 0 2014 0 1
New York Rangers 3 0 3 2012, 2014 (2 games) 3 0
Ottawa Senators 1 0 1 2014 1 0
Philadelphia Flyers 2 (1) 1 1 (1) 2010, 2012, 2017 0 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (1) 1 (1) 2 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017 1 2
San Jose Sharks 1 1 0 2015 0 1
St. Louis Blues 1 1 0 2017 1 0
Toronto Maple Leafs 2 1 1 2014, 2017 2 0
Vancouver Canucks 1 1 0 2014 0 1
Washington Capitals 2 1 1 2011, 2015 2 0
Winnipeg Jets 1 1 0 2016 0 1

Note: This table excludes exhibition games with non-NHL opponents (such as those in 1954 and 1956) and pre-season games (such as the one in 1991)


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