About six years ago, we published a list of the “top 30 future locations for NHL Winter Classic games.” This was after the Fenway Park game, and it’s amazing how many locations the League has managed to knock off that last. (With the frustrating exception of Beaver Stadium, which is obviously where the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers game needed to be played.)
But looking back on it, one thing is clear: We’ve yet to enter the era of outdoor games that are held near NHL cities rather than in them, and conversely the era in which outdoor games are held in weird-ass locations that aren’t elephantine pro baseball or football stadia.
According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, that might change in the near future.
“They’ve gone to a lot of cities, they don’t necessarily want to go back to cities a second and third time, so they’re saying where else can we go with this?” he said last night during Hockey Night in Canada.
“One of the things they’re considering for next season is putting a game at West Point, if they can get the stadium issue worked out there. The Rangers would play, but they wouldn’t be the home team.”
West Point Military Academy is located roughly an hour and a half away from Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
(And if the Rangers are one of the teams, we look forward to the death match between the military-obsessed owners of the Florida Panthers and the Las Vegas Whatevers to be the “home team” at West Point.)
Friedman said that the NHL is also considering a game at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in case you were wondering in which outdoor game the Chicago Blackhawks will next play.
This isn’t the first time that Notre Dame has been mentioned as a potential site, and its athletic director has shown interest in having it happen.
Friedman said the NHL is also considering international sites. A number of countries have already hosted them, including 30,076 people attending a game at Stade de Suisse in Bern, Switzerland in 2007; 31,000 at Ullevi Gothenburg in Sweden in 2009; 36,000 plys at Helsinki Olympic Stadium in Finland in 2011; 50,000 in Frankenstadion Nürnberg, Germany in 2013; and let’s not forget about the KHL’s All-Star Game that was held in Red Square.
Sunday’s outdoor game between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers at Investors Group Field in Manitoba is one of four outdoor games in the NHL this season. They’re profitable and they’re popular – on site, if not necessarily on television for non-Winter Classic games.
But it is time for the NHL to think bigger, bolder and, most importantly, outside of its safety zone. And while that doesn’t mean putting a game in Yellowstone Park like we suggested six years ago, it should mean putting a game in a neutral site like South Bend or, say, Seattle. (Vancouver Canucks vs. one of the California teams, perhaps?)
One of the main goals of the NHL’s Winter Classic series was to bring its product to fans outside its circle of die-hards, whether it was through New Year’s Day television viewing or having fans show up en masse to the stadium.
Going outside the obvious venues gets it back to that spirit.
Going outside the obvious teams … well, that’s a whole different conversation.
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