Article: Hockey in the Desert? The Top Outdoor Moments in NHL History: HowStuffWorks
Hockey in the Desert? The Top Outdoor Moments in NHL History
By: Ian Fortey
Image: Wikicommons by U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Armer
About This Article
Kids have played hockey on frozen ponds and iced-over parking lots for years. It's almost surprising that the NHL has actually had so few outdoor games in its history, especially since it's been playing games for over 100 years. Very few, but still some! And in 2020 the NHL is having its Winter Classic in the great outdoors of Dallas, Texas. If that seems like an unlikely place to hold a hockey game, others have even been played in Las Vegas. If hockey can be played in the desert, it can be played anywhere! In fact, the NHL has been staging regular outdoor games since 2003, and there were a handful of games dating back even further than that.
Sometimes you just need to feel that crisp, cold, outdoor air in your lungs as you watch a true winter sport being played. Yes, it's a lot cozier in an arena but that's not how hockey was made to be enjoyed! The great outdoors is the perfect venue. And with that in mind, let's strap on some skates and take a quick run down memory lane as we check out the best of the best in the history of outdoor games in the NHL.
Hard Time and Cold Ice
In 1954, the very first NHL outdoor game went down between the Detroit Red Wings and a team you likely don't remember called the Marquette Pirates. The game wasn't a regular-season matchup, it was an exhibition game because the Pirates weren't an NHL team; they were a convict team from Marquette Branch Prison. Rumor has it that Red Wings manager Jack Adams was into some mobsters and agreed to the game as a kind of payment. They stopped keeping scoring when the Wings were ahead 18-0.
The Heritage Classic
In 2003, the Montreal Canadiens met the Edmonton Oilers on their home turf for the 2003 Heritage Classic. Officially this would be recognized as the very first regular-season NHL game to take place outdoors. The two teams met at Commonwealth Stadium, Canada's largest open-air stadium, in Edmonton. Normally home to a CFL team, the Edmonton Eskimos, the game attracted a crowd of over 57,000 fans in weather that dropped down to -18 C or -22 F with the wind chill.
The Winter Classic
These days we expect the Winter Classic as a yearly event, but it had to start somewhere, and this was it. The 2008 Winter Classic was played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Buffalo Sabres took on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the very first regular-season outdoor game on American soil. Over 71,000 fans braved the weather to see the game, breaking attendance records in the process. The payoff? An incredible Crosby backhand in the shootout.
The Winter Warmer Trendsetter
Let's head back to that first game in 2003 for a second. While the game itself was a legend, there was something else going on that day well worth a mention that has influenced many of the games held since. With brutally cold temperatures chilling fans to the bone, the crew on the ice was feeling it as well. Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore was the one who did something about it, though. Theodore got ahold of a Habs toque (or knit cap for you non-Canadians), pom-pom and all, and popped it on top of his helmet. A fashion standard was born and many goalies since have followed suit.
The Big One
Many fans consider the 2014 Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings to be the best of the best so far. The game, initially postponed due to the NHL lockout of 2012-2013, was held the next year in 2014 so anticipation was high. Attendance for this game once against shattered NHL records as over 105,000 fans showed up at Michigan Stadium, an outdoor venue which up to that point had only been used for college football.
Sunny Says and Drizzle
In 2012 the Winter Classic got a run for its money at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The game was delayed right off the bat due to weather but not because it was too cold or there was a snowstorm. The glare from the sun was so bad no one could see what they were doing. When the puck dropped two hours later it was 45 degrees Fahrenheit and there was light rain. But the game proved to be an exciting one overall and the final score was 3-2 for the Rangers over the Flyers.
2013's a Ghost
Is it cheating a little to mark the 2013 Winter Classic as an important moment in outdoor NHL history? Maybe. Only insofar as there was no actual outdoor game that year which is kind of why it counts. Thanks to the NHL lockout, the game that was meant to be played this year had to be scrapped entirely. Because the Winter Classic is a one-day-only event held on New Year's Day the game wasn't postponed so much as skipped entirely. The next game was January 1, 2014.
Rene Borque made his presence known at the 2011 Heritage Classic by scoring not just once but twice to lead Calgary to a 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Borque's first goal was a shambles for the Canadiens as he just stood at the net, ignored by the Canadiens, and tapped in a shot from Alex Tanguay. He came back with a backhand and tapped a second one in before tripping over his own stick. No other player has scored two goals in an outdoor game since.
Viva Las Vegas
The last thing anyone might expect to see in Las Vegas is an outdoor NHL game. First, las Vegas doesn't have an NHL team. Second, it's in the desert. Those factors would normally keep this sport far, far away, but in 1991 there was an exhibition game between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings. An outdoor rink was built over the parking lot of Caesar's Palace casino. The rink had to be outfitted with triple the normal amount of refrigeration units to keep it frozen and cost about $135,000. The King's ended up winning 5-2.
The Newfoundland Free-For-All
There is no NHL team in Newfoundland nor has there ever been one but there are still ice rinks and there was one in 1956. The Boston Bruins were doing a post-season exhibition tour when they stopped in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, a town with a population of only about 6,000 people in 2019. The Bruins played a game at the Conception Bay Sports Arena against four of the local area teams. The plan was each team would play a quarter against the Bruins but by the end, all the teams were on the ice in a crazy mob scene.
The "D" Jersey
The year was 2009. The place was Wrigley Field. The jersey? The unforgettable Detroit Red Wings giant "D" jersey. This was a hockey game that was played in the spirit of fun. Winter Classics are a little more serious these days but this second one, played at an iconic baseball diamond, was just cutting loose. The Red Wings wore those ostentatious jerseys and midway through the third period Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, and Ryne Sandberg sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
Going to OT
The 2010 Winter Classic took place at historic Fenway Park making the Boston Bruins the home team for this match against the Philadelphia Flyers. This was the first Winter Classic game a home team won, and also the first game that went down to overtime to settle the score. The Bruins managed to tie the game up in the third period forcing the game to overtime, then with only a couple of minutes left on the clock, Marco Sturnin scored the game-winning goal.
The Winter Classic held in Queens, New York at Citi Field marked the 10th anniversary of the outdoor games, so it was quite reasonably hyped up a bit before the game began. It was about 12°F that day, making it particularly frosty, and all things being equal, the brightest spot of the entire game was actually the fashion show. Buffalo opted for some throwback uniforms in blue and white that called back to the '70s while the Rangers went with some inspiration from the '20s.
100 Years on Ice
They called it the NHL 100 Classic and it was held in Ottawa at TD Place Stadium back in 2017. To celebrate the centennial of the league, the Canadiens met the Senators at what they opted to call Lansdowne Park to avoid any sponsorship conflicts. Officially, this was a rematch of one of the first two NHL games ever which were both played on December 19, 1917. It was Ottawa's first-ever outdoor game, and they made an impressive showing, taking down Montreal 3-0.
The Stadium Series
In 2014, the NHL rolled out the Stadium Series which would be four regular-season outdoor games all in some of the most iconic stadiums in American sports history. The first of these battles saw the Los Angeles Kings take on the Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium in January of 2014. That first game was an all-out experience with the Ducks shutting out the Kings 3-0 and even a performance by KISS before the game began.
Miika Kiprusoff Owns It
Miika Kiprusoff had more than proven himself as a goaltender for the Calgary Flames before the 2011 Heritage Classic and he kept that streak going with a vengeance at that outdoor game. Kiprusoff shutout the Canadiens making an impressive 39 saves. He became the first goalie to ever achieve an outdoor game shutout as a result, a feat that would not be repeated again until 2016 when Cam Talbot pulled it off.
Should the 2014 Heritage Classic even count as an outdoor game? It was meant to be an outdoor game like the other Heritage Classics but it was played in Vancouver's BC Place, a stadium with a retractable dome. Now if the dome was open, that maybe could have technically been outdoors, but since the dome is not permitted to be open during poor weather, they had to close it for the Classic. So the game took place indoors. Nonetheless, the Sens went on to score two goals in two minutes, so that's something.
Take the Field!
The final game of the Stadium Series in 2014 saw the Chicago Blackhawks meet the Pittsburgh Penguins on Soldier Field. This was a true Spirit of Hockey game, with snow falling from the skies and brutal cold in the air. Chicago has had more appearances at outdoor games than any other at this point, a total of 6 in fact, but they only have one W on the board and this was it. The Blackhawks defeated the Pens 5-1.
The 2011 Winter Classic between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins was arguably the most highly anticipated one yet. The Classic had a couple of years to establish itself as a fan favorite and then this year marked a solid throw down between two league superstars in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. There was even the tie-in of the HBO 24/7 miniseries to help fan the flames and get everyone stoked for the battle. The game started 7 hours late and Crosby ended up taking a brutal hit.
Down to the Wire
Colorado seems like it would be the perfect venue for an outdoor game, but it took a few years to get one there. When the Red Wings finally met the Avalanche in 2016, it was a heck of a game. Tied 3-3, the Red Wings scored a tie-breaking goal with exactly one minute left on the clock. Then, with only 20 seconds left, they pulled out another one for an incredible 5-3 win for Detroit.
In 2015 the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks met at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. There was little buzz for this game as the luster of outdoor games had worn off a bit and both the Caps and the Hawks had a bite at the apple before so there was no novelty there. Instead, fans got a solid hockey game that didn't need frills and gimmicks. Washington took an early 2-0 lead but Chicago came back to tie it up in the second. Then, with 13 seconds left in play, Washington broke the tie to win.
Welcome to Yankee Stadium
January 26th, 2014 marked the very first outdoor NHL game in New York history and the first game played at historic Yankee Stadium. The matchup saw the New York Rangers take on the New Jersey Devils and if you think the Rangers were the home team well, you'd be mistaken. The Rangers have to always be the team that plays home games at Madison Square Gardens. If they're the home team anywhere else, MSG loses its tax-exempt status. So, for one night only, Yankee Stadium was home to New Jersey.
In 2016 you couldn't ask for a better matchup than the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. These teams have a solid rivalry that dates back a while, and it's always fun to watch them square off. Their Winter Classic duel at Gillette Stadium was one that was met with a lot of anticipation. Unfortunately for Boston fans, the Canadiens were not joking around when they showed up, destroying the Bruins in a 5-1 victory. It was the first Winter Classic to be decided by more than a two-point margin.
Things Get Wild
South of the Canadian border there are only so many venues that make sense for an outdoor hockey game. And since Minnesota does have an NHL team, it stands at the top of the heap for obvious choices. Despite that, the Wild didn't get their chance at an outdoor game until 2016 when they took on the Chicago Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium. The Wild lived up to their name as they ran wild on the Blackhawks and absolutely destroyed them 6-1. It was the widest margin by which any team has ever won an outdoor game in the NHL.
Rough for the Roughriders
The 2019 Heritage Classic took place at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders CFL team. It was the first time a regular-season NHL game had taken place on neutral grounds. The entire province of Saskatchewan is devoid of an NHL presence. The game was between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets, so Regina was actually a perfect choice as it's almost dead center between the two cities. The game ended up heading to overtime when the Jets finally took it 2-1.
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