It was a wildly successful event nearly four years ago in Edmonton. An outdoor regular season National Hockey League game in the brutal cold got fans not only excited, but absolutely jacked up to see two Canadian teams play an affair that meant something. It wasn't just for the fans to witness history being made, but the game actually counted in the season standings.
Many memories were made at the Heritage Classic when the Edmonton Oilers hosted the Montreal Canadiens on November 22, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium. The day before, many Oilers and Canadiens legends skated on a hockey rink set up on the field where the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos usually play. The next night, players on the two teams that season squared off before an NHL-record crowd of 57,167 witnessed the Canadiens claim victory with a 4-3 trimuph. But I will always remember Jose Theodore wearing that red and blue touque on top of his goaltender mask. It became a big sales hit at league merchandise outlets, especially in Canada. Then again, when it is -4° Fahrenheit (-18° Celsius) outside, you're bound to wear one.
We fast forward to nearly four years later. For the past 12 months or so, rumors circulated about another outdoor game. Boston, Detroit and New York City were mentioned sites. While a Rangers vs. Islanders matchup is still being looked into for a future game, Buffalo Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret as the master of ceremonies helped make the big NHL announcement today. The Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins will faceoff on January 1, 2008 in the AMP NHL Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in nearby Orchard Park, New York (a southern suburb of Buffalo). The current home to the National Football League's Buffalo Bills will also have a regulation size hockey rink placed on the field just as was the case in Edmonton. Will it be as cold as it was the first time around? It's possible, considering it gets really cold in Buffalo during January. God knows about how much snow will be on the ground by then given the frequent lake effect snows that fall there every year.
With their team having come off two straight appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, Sabres fan interest for this game should be sky high. The league having rising Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby as a big part of the event has the potential to help market the game's future here in the United States.
"Many of our players have great memories of playing outdoors when they were growing up," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said at the press conference. "This game provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase our great players, honor hockey's heritage and ring in the New Year with the best fans in sports."
Unlike the first time around, the game will be shown live across the United States on NBC while CBC and RDS will do the same in Canada. The AMP NHL Winter Classic is expected to sell out with over 73,000 tickets to be had. If that's done, another all-time single game attendance record will be set.