Since the lockout in 2004, the NHL took a huge hit in viewership and popularity generated to the sport. To put the NHL back on the map and into the spotlight, they decided to embrace the sports history of playing outside, against the elements, in the purest form of hockey. What began as a clever gimmick has sprouted into a highly talked about annual event in the hockey community, while also generating interest from the casual hockey fan. Five of six most-watched NHL regular-season games in past 37 years are Winter Classics. The only thing better than watching hockey in an outside atmosphere, is seeing what legendary stadiums around the country will they’ll be playing in. So far the Winter Classic has been played in Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the legendary Fenway Park in Boston, and Wrigley Field in Chicago, and lastly is Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia this year.
The NHL announced today their plans to continue the Winter Classic tradition in 2013 by having the Detroit Red Wings host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan. This would be the first college football stadium involved in the Classic, and what stadium better than The Big House in Ann Harbor. This game will involve the perennial powerhouses from Detroit (their 2nd Winter Classic appearance) against the first Canadian team to take part in the event, which is hoping to incite a college Ra-Ra rivalry.
The plans for the 2013 Winter Classic to be played at Michigan Stadium got me thinking of what some of the best matchup scenarios for future Winter Classics should be. So I’ve made a list of the top 5 ideas:
#5: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Detroit Red Wings at “The Horseshoe” (Ohio State University)- This idea go to the idea for 2013. One of the biggest rivalries in all of sports is the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes in college football. First of all, much like Michigan Stadium, Ohio State’s stadium is one of the most legendary in the country. Second, perhaps the NHL could pull in some intrigue and fans from around the raging college rivalry. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets have been one of the worst teams in the NHL, so I’m not so high on the matchup, as opposed to the rivalry.
#4: Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks at the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA)- In the last couple years the Ducks and the Sharks have been the class of the Western Conference. A chance to have these two top teams battling for the state of California’s best is at stake, while also having the first teams west of the Mississippi River get a crack at the Classic. To see top stars like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thorton against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the bright lights of Pasadena would be a sight. Would be interesting how they’d keep it cold out there in Cali, though.
#3: New York Islanders vs. Colorado Avalanche at Coors Field/Mile High Stadium- This sounds like a strange matchup, I know, but I think to get a little East vs. West thing going would be interesting. Colorado has a plethora of venues to host a Winter Classic, and the Avs are an up-and-coming team out west. The Islanders are young and up-and-coming themselves, so it could make for an interesting game. Also, it would have John Tavares against Matt Duchene, #1 and #2 pick respectively in the 2009 draft…which team chose right?
#2: Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild at Target Stadium (Minnesota Twins Stadium)- Minnesota…here is your chance to finally hash out your anger on your beloved Minnesota North Stars leaving from greener pastures. The Wild is an interesting team in that most fans don’t really get to see them, but with Dany Heatley at the helm, they could run wild at the Classic. Meanwhile, the Stars currently are up and down, but for years they were one of the perennial Stanley Cup competitors and they do have a big Southern fan base to draw from. Give these teams a chance to duke it out to see who’s “stars” shine brightest.
#1 New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils at Metlife Stadium (NY Jets/Giants Stadium)- Still think the Hudson River Rivalry has lost its luster Jacque Lamaire? Well, the Winter Classic can incite the fans and reignite the rivalry to its past glory of mutual and utter disdain. You could also have this game be at Yankees Stadium depending on who get to be the gracious hosts. Maybe we’ll see a bone-crushing hit like Scott Stevens used to do, or maybe we’ll hear screams for the new Stephane Matteau. Only one way to find out. All I know is if the Rangers and Devils got to play in the Winter Classic…I wouldn’t need to DVR it.