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The Winter Classic is an outdoor hockey game that is a part of the regular hockey season, but it's played outdoors, where the unpredictable elements live. The game takes place on, or very close to, New Year's Day.
The Winter Classic is based on the Heritage Classic in 2003, when the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens played in Edmonton, Alta.
Jon Miller, who was the executive vice-president of NBC Sports, first proposed the Winter Classic as a television opportunity in 2004. He pitched the idea to the National Hockey League (NHL), but they didn't think it could work.
In December 2006, Miller pitched the idea again, but this time, successfully. The Winter Classic is one of hockey's most-watched events, but there have certainly been complications due to, you guessed it, weather.
2008 - ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - RALPH WILSON STADIUM
Pittsburgh (2) at Buffalo (1) —— shootout
The Winter Classic's inaugural game was Jan. 1, 2008, between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Even though there was hesitation with the Winter Classic idea, the first game ever played broke the record for the highest attended game, with a total of 71,217 fans in attendance. The success of the event helped propel the idea of future outdoor games and led to a well-received New Year's tradition.
The outdoor gameplay led to some rule changes. The NHL announced that the teams had to switch ends halfway through the third period. Exactly at the 10-minute mark, the game was interrupted and a new faceoff occurred at centre ice.
The overtime period was divided into two 2:30 parts. Each goaltender was able to choose which goal to defend for the shootout. They both chose the same goal.
The temperature was around freezing and there was persistent snow. The weather conditions made it challenging for the players but the fans loved it.
Sydney Crosby scored the game-winning goal.
2009 - CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - WRIGLEY FIELD
Detroit (6) at Chicago (4)
The Winter Classics pitted the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in Chicago. There were around 41,000 fans in attendance.
The Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup the year before. They defended their championship by winning 6-4, though they were down 3-1 in the first period.
Because of the legacy of Wrigley Field as a baseball venue, the Cubs' Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg sang a hockey variation of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
The NHL announced another rule change, to account for any weather conditions. Considering the strong winds at Wrigley Field, the teams changed sides just after the halfway point of the third period.
2011 PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - HEINZ FIELD
Washington (3) at Pittsburgh (1)
The 2011 Winter Classic was scheduled for 1 p.m., but a rain delay caused it to start at 8 p.m. and was played "under the lights." The game was between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The NHL considered delaying the game altogether, but the players seem to be game. "I don't see anything wrong with playing under the lights here," Sidney Crosby said, adding, "I think that'd be pretty nice. We should all be enjoying ourselves no matter what the scenario."
The Capitals' coach Bruce Boudreau said, "As coaches and players, we don't care if we go at midnight," adding the affirmative, "Let's go."
During the game Crosby collided with Dave Steckel of the Capitals, leaving Crosby with serious injuries.
Considering the high winds, the teams were told to change sides an additional time, at the halfway point of the third period.
2012 - PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - CITIZENS BANK PARK
NY Rangers (3) at Philadelphia (2)
The New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers played the fifth Winter Classic at the Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
This year the game was only delayed two hours, this time from warmer temperatures and associated sun glare. The puck dropped at 3:20 p.m. with a temperature of 7°C. The skies were overcast and it rained for a bit during the second period.
The Rangers won 3–2.
2014 - ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - MICHIGAN STADIUM
Toronto (3) at Detroit (2) Shootout
This was the first time the Winter Classic was delayed a year due to the 2012-13 NHL lockout. The game was initially scheduled for Jan. 1, 2013, but ended up taking place on Jan. 1, 2014.
The game was played between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. This was the first year a Canadian played in the Winter Classic (aside from the Heritage Classic).
The 2014 Winter Classic was one of six outdoor games. The outdoor games where instead of the All-Star Game because of the 2014 Winter Games.
A total of 105,491 fans attended the 2014 Winter Classic. The weather conditions were rough, the temperature was below zero and there was snow and strong winds. The ref's whistle even stopped working because the little ball inside of it froze.
Toronto won 3-2 in a shootout.
2020 - DALLAS, TEXAS - COTTON BOWL
Nashville (2) at Dallas (4)
The 2020 Winter Classic was in Texas and played by the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars. The temperature that day was 20°C. Because it was so warm and raining, the top layer of the ice melted, taking the white paint and logo down with it.
The Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas. (Michael Barera/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0)
King planned for the warmer temperatures and rain, he instructed for the ice to be 2 to 2.5 inches thick instead of the regular 1 to 1.5-inch-thick ice. This was done so water could be removed from the surface instead of last-minute ice added.
The processes of creating NHL-ready ice is labourious, it involves spraying many layers of mist to create a dense, hard sheet.
A lot of ice drama went down before the actual game, which the Nashville Predators ended up winning 4–2.