Though nothing has been confirmed yet by the NHL, it has been reported that the 2018 NHL Winter Classic will likely be between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers at Citi Field in Flushing, New York, home of the MLB’s New York Mets.
This would be the second outdoor game for the Sabres and the fourth for the Rangers. In the 2012 Winter Classic, the Rangers beat the Flyers 3-2 at Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park. Two years later in 2014, the Rangers took part in the newly created Stadium Series, which serves the same purpose as the Winter Classic but for some reason has a different title.They topped both their cross-town rivals at Yankee Stadium, the New Jersey Devils 7-2 and the New York Islanders 2-1.
The Sabres on the other hand hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year’s Day 2008 in the first ever outdoor NHL game in the United States. Held at then-Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York (home of the Buffalo Bills), the event lived up to its hype and set an NHL attendance record of 71, 217.
The 2008 Classic was a terrific game for many reasons. For one, the elements played a factor. The amount of snow in Western New York that day made it feel as if the Sabres and Penguins really were playing at a pond somewhere. The game itself was very exciting as Pittsburgh and Buffalo were neck-in-neck. Ending dramatically when Sidney Crosby beat Ryan Miller in the shootout to give the Penguins the win, the game is considered to be the best of its kind. I remember being 12 and watching the game. I was livid that my most hated player at the time scored the winner, but I still can’t deny how good that game was. Everything just seemed to go right (except the outcome, of course).
The quality of outdoor games in the NHL has decreased drastically since then for a number of reasons. For one, many of the League’s favorite big market teams (Pittsburgh, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, etc.) have played in multiple Winter Classics in just a few years’ time while other teams (Dallas, Nashville, Carolina etc.) have yet to get in on the excitement. Some of the games have been just plain boring, and others have been held in locations that were barely cold enough to be possible, such as Chicago vs. St. Louis this year at Busch Stadium. The game itself wasn’t bad, but it was so warm in St. Louis that the teams were practically playing on slush.
The Sabres and Rangers aren’t exactly rivals, but that may be the freshness that the outdoor game concept needs. Two teams that are rarely at odds could make for an entertaining game that fans rarely see. While the Sabres are looking for their first outdoor victory, the Rangers will be perfect against their intrastate adversaries in outdoor games if they can get the win.
Now we wait to see if the NHL confirms all this. If they want outdoor games to remain popular, let’s hope they do.