One of the darkest times in NHL history was the 2004-05 NHL Lockout. Losing an entire season due to labor unrest put the league in a rough place. Contracts were getting problematic, but it was not a reason to end the game entirely. It really ruined the momentum of the sport. So, coming out of the lockout, the NHL had to get creative to bring in new and existing fans.
Fast forward to 2006. NBC Executive VP Jon Miller had been pitching the idea of an outdoor game to the league for a few years. However, many made the concept seem impossible. That was until Executive VP/Business & Media John Collins embraced the idea.
The NHL tried outdoor games over the past few decades. In 1991, the NHL held an outdoor game outside Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, but that was a preseason game. In 2003, the NHL held the Heritage Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers. They brought out the legends to play a pregame scrimmage, including Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur, and a still-active Mark Messier. Its success really drove the idea for other outdoor games to thrive.
It took a few years of planning, but the first Winter Classic took place in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. The Buffalo Sabres took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The event was a roaring success, with tickets flying off shelves (or Ticketmaster more likely), and the TV product bringing in viewers on a holiday (the game was played on New Year's Day 2008). A second game was immediately scheduled for 2009, with the Detroit Red Wings facing the Chicago Blackhawks at the iconic Wrigley Field.
This new concept gave the NHL the ability to get creative with the venue. Imagine all the places the NHL could take the Winter Classic. So far, teams have played at iconic stadiums like Heinz Field, Michigan Stadium, Fenway Park, and the Cotton Bowl.
The NHL once had complete ownership of New Year's Day, but changes in the college football schedule and certain games falling on a Sunday have the league pivoting in some years. However, for the most part, this is part of the New Year's Day holiday.
The Boston Bruins returned to Fenway Park to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. They beat their opponent 2-1, securing their third and currently most Winter Classic wins in history. See below to see all of the winners and locations in Winter Classic History.
- 2008 — Penguins 2 - Sabres 1 — Ralph Wilson Stadium
- 2009 — Red Wings 6 - Blackhawks 4 — Wrigley Field
- 2010 — Bruins 2 - Flyers 1 — Fenway Park
- 2011 — Capitals 3 - Penguins 1 — Heinz Field (now Acrisure Stadium)
- 2012 — Rangers 3 - Flyers 2 — Citizens Bank Park
- 2014 — Maple Leafs 3 - Red Wings 2 — Michigan Stadium
- 2015 — Capitals 3 - Blackhawks 2 — Nationals Park
- 2016 — Canadiens 5 - Bruins 1 — Gillette Stadium
- 2017 — Blues 4 - Blackhawks 1 — Busch Stadium
- 2018 — Rangers 3 - Sabres 2 — Citi Field
- 2019 — Bruins 4 - Blackhawks 2 — Notre Dame Stadium
- 2020 — Stars 4 - Predators 2 — Cotton Bowl
- 2022 — Blues 6 - Wild 4 — Target Field
- 2023 — Bruins 2 - Penguins 1 — Fenway Park
This year, the NHL is heading to Seattle to give its newest team the spotlight. The Seattle Kraken will take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights. That game takes place on Jan. 1, 2024 at T-Mobile Park. We're excited to see new teams in the NHL's showcase performance!