NHL Really Starting To Dig These Outdoor Games

One of the coolest sports innovations of the last few years has been the NHL’s Outdoor Classic, a hockey game held outside in the dead of winter. January 1, to be exact. As a matter of fact, if there were any problems with this year’s Wrigley Field tilt between Chicago and Detroit, it’s that, well, it was just the one game.

NHL Winter Classic
(If you seriously must be outdoors and this far north on New Year’s Day, this is probably the best way to spend your time.)

The NHL has realized the popularity of what it has created, thankfully. As ESPN.COM reports, with designs on reappropriating New Year’s Day for hockey instead of college football, the league may be expanding the spectacle to multiple cities

The back-end of the outdoor doubleheader would be hosted by the Flames in Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The opponent is unknown but figures to be one of the other five Canadian-based franchises.

While there has been no official announcement, the first half of the Winter Classic twin bill likely will be hosted by the Boston Bruins at historic Fenway Park. Alex Ovechkin (and the) Washington Capitals are rumored to be the Bruins’ opponent.

And hey, why not? For as much frozen-pond romanticizing as the league indulges in (this isn’t unique; baseball has its sandlots, football has rural fields, etc.), bringing the game back to its elements is a natural next step for hockey.

Further, their previous two forays into the Winter Classic have been wild successes; the game at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 (shown above) was a sellout, and our Chicago sources still talk about this January’s tilt between the Blackhawks and Red Wings at Wrigley Field. And those special sweaters? Holy crap, those look good. Granted, the price tag on them just says “$Kidney,” but y’know, it’s still worth it.

Last, holding the games on January 1 has been a stroke of genius. Just about everybody has the day off, and in case you hadn’t noticed, college football has taken its stranglehold on the day for granted. Gone are the days of a dozen bowl games (including the best ones) filling your screen while you nurse a hangover; this year, seven bowls take place after 1/1/10, while “only” five are played on the holiday itself. Give hockey credit for stepping into the void here.

And yet Gary Bettman’s fighting to keep the NHL in Phoenix. Oh, please. Hockey’s for the north. This is ice-cold proof.