One of the best things about the modern NHL has been the rise in outdoor games. The brainchild of NBC and the NHL, the Winter Classic (as well as its offshoot Stadium Series) have become staples on the NHL’s list of prime events. 23 teams have played in an outdoor game, and countless memories have been made.
With 2 more classic games on the horizon, let’s examine the Top 10 NHL Outdoor Games.
10. 2014 Stadium Series Games (Rangers vs. Devils, Rangers vs. Islanders)
The New York Yankees are the class of the MLB, featuring a history full of legends and championships, as well as one of the MLB’s best stadiums in Yankee Stadium. With New York fans some of the most rabid in the NHL, it was only natural for the powers-at-be to provide the local New York teams some games at Yankee Stadium.
The games themselves weren’t particularly close (the Rangers won both of them 7-3 and 2-1), but the fact that there was hockey at Yankee Stadium was just a sight to behold. Of all the sites that the NHL has played outdoors at, Yankee Stadium may have been the coolest.
9. California Stadium Series Games (2014: Ducks vs. Kings, 2015 Kings vs. Sharks)
By 2014, the NHL had become professionals at laying down ice outdoors for hockey games. However, the games had only been played in cold-weather environments, shunning the fervent California fanbase, which features 3 unique teams. But the NHL changed all that with the introduction of 2 outdoor games in California to be played in 2014 and 2015.
The games were played at night so as to not have high temperatures or sun glare be a factor. Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles hosted the first game, while the second contest was played at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco. The Kings ended up winning both matches 3-0 and 2-1, but the memories created by all involved will never be forgotten. The NHL was successfully able to bring outdoor hockey to a tropical environment with the inaugural Stadium Series, something that seemed impossible on paper.
8. 2016 Winter Classic (Canadiens vs. Bruins)
The most recent Winter Classic may have also been the least memorable. Played at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the contest was a lopsided one from the start. The Canadiens won the game 5-1 and never really had the game in any doubt. Both teams were also ridden by injuries at the time of the game, which kept stars like Carey Price out of the spotlight.
Despite the promise of the oldest, fiercest rivalry in NHL history at the forefront, the game was relatively civil. It was still a fun moment, but the NHL has seen better Classics.
7. 2009 Winter Classic (Red Wings vs. Blackhawks)
After the wild success of the inaugural 2008 Winter Classic, the NHL fell a bit flat with its sequel. Another lopsided game, the Red Wings spoiled the host Blackhawks’ parade, winning 6-4 at windy Wrigley Field.
The atmosphere was superb, but the game itself was not the most memorable in NHL outdoor history; it simply couldn’t live up to the previous year’s standout game.
6. 2015 Winter Classic (Blackhawks vs. Capitals)
In a matchup that felt mailed in by the NHL schedule-makers, the 2015 Winter Classic was not without controversy. The surprising selection of the Blackhawks as the Capitals’ opponent, instead of the rumored Philadelphia Flyers or Boston Bruins, left some fans scratching their heads.
However, the game was, well, a classic. Played at beautiful Nationals Park, Troy Brouwer scored the game-winning goal for the host Capitals with just 13 seconds left in the game, sending the crowd into hysteria.
5. 2011 Winter Classic (Capitals vs. Penguins)
The first (and only) nighttime Winter Classic, the lure of Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby was too compelling a matchup to be kept off of primetime TV. It’s too bad that Crosby’s unfortunate concussion is the most-remembered thing about this game, instead of the tight-checking and surprisingly physical contest that erupted at Heinz Field that night.
Eric Fehr tallied two goals in the game, adding to his status as the highest-scoring player in NHL outdoor history with three total Classic goals (he also nabbed one in the 2015 Classic).
4. 2010 Winter Classic (Flyers vs. Bruins)
After a less-memorable 2009 Winter Classic, the NHL stepped it up big time with the third Winter Classic, which featured longtime rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. The Fenway Park backdrop was one of the coolest sites in NHL outdoor history, and the game was filled with suspense, eventually resulting in a 2-1 Boston overtime win.
The first Winter Classic fight also took place in this contest, between the Flyers’ Dan Carcillo and the Bruins’ Shawn Thornton. Carcillo may have won the fight, but the Bruins ended up winning the game.
3. 2012 Winter Classic (Rangers vs. Flyers)
The 2012 Winter Classic had everything fans could have wished for: a vicious rivalry (Flyers-Rangers), a state-of-the-art facility (Citizens Bank Park), and one of the Winter Classics’ most unforgettable finishes.
Thanks to the surprising contributions of grinder Mike Rupp, the Rangers came back from a 2-0 deficit and won the game 3-2, but not before some controversy. With just 19 seconds left, the Flyers’ Danny Briere was granted a penalty shot that was ultimately stopped by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the game’s MVP. No other Classic had such a made-for-TV finish.
2. 2014 Winter Classic (Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings)
The 2014 Winter Classic was the NHL’s first foray outdoors in two years due to the unfortunate 2012 lockout, but boy did the league do it right with this one. Played at the “Big House” in Michigan before a record 105,500 fans in blizzard-like conditions, the Maple Leafs and Red Wings pulled out all the stops in 2014.
The game was back-and-forth all the way through, and was ultimately decided in a shootout, in which the Leafs emerged victorious. The 2014 Winter Classic was almost an homage to the original classic, with the raucous fans, snowy weather, and shootout finish.
1. 2008 Winter Classic (Penguins vs. Sabres)
The original Winter Classic, played at snowy Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, turned back time to the days of boys and girls playing shinny hockey on the pond with the snowglobe-type atmosphere. The game was one of those instances in which everything that could have gone right did go right: the game’s first goal came within 21 seconds, the snow came pouring on down, and the game’s biggest stars, Sidney Crosby and Ryan Miller dueled in the shootout to determine the winner.
After Crosby scored the game winning goal, it became clear that the NHL had a gold mine on its hands with the Winter Classic. The first game couldn’t have been any better, which is exactly why the NHL’s outdoor games have become a New Years’ tradition.