“All is quiet on New Year’s Day. A world in white gets underway…A crowd has gathered in black and white. Arms entwined, the chosen few. The newspapers says, says. Say it’s true it’s true…” -U2, New year’s Day
On January 1, 2008 the NHL changed forever.
In what has proven to be one of the most significant dates of the last 25-years, the NHL took the great game of hockey back to its’ outdoor roots.
71,217 exuberant fans packed Ralph Wilson Stadium to watch the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins contest the very first Winter Classic.
Sidney Crosby won the spectacle when he shoveled the puck across the snow-laden goal-line for the game-winning shootout goal; giving Pittsburgh a historic 2-1 victory.
While that first Winter Classic was indeed a “classic,” it almost took place two years earlier.
WINTER CLASSIC ORIGINS
In the autumn of 2004 NBC acquired the rights to NHL broadcasts and the Network was set to begin broadcasting games at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Thanks to a stroke of sheer genius, Jon Miller (NBC Sports President of Programming) thought up an idea that would one day be referred to as “The NHL’s Super Bowl” (Pat LaFontaine, Hockey Hall of Famer).
Trying to capitalize on the white-hot Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, Miller suggested that the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins take their Original Six rivalry to a new venue; Yankee Stadium.
Miller pitched the idea to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Yankees. Neither pitch went well.
While Bettman was at least curious about the potential game, he admitted to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, “the idea was somewhere between exciting and audacious.”
At least Bettman was intrigued; after all the Yankees practically laughed Miller out of the meeting.
As Miller recalls the Yankees said:
“We’re not putting on a hockey game. This is the House that Ruth Built. You’re not going to get a hockey game in here on New Year’s Day. We shut this place down.”
THE GRAND PLAN
Thankfully, Miller wasn’t one to give up and in the Fall of 2006, Miller finally got the help he needed.
John Collins (former Chief Operating Officer at NBC) joined the NHL and together with Miller, the first Winter Classic was put in motion.
After some time searching for a team willing to host their grandiose event, Miller and Collins caught a break. The Sabres were willing to give up one of their home games to host the first time event.
The decision was made to have the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium — home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. And the rest as they say, is history.
Since that first game on New Year’s Day 2008, the NHL has continued to expand and evolve their now yearly tradition.
EVOLUTION OF OUTDOOR GAMES
And part of the evolution has included events such as: The Tim Hortons Heritage Classic, Coors Light Stadium Series, Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic and Scotiabank NHL 100 Classic.
The Blueshirts have been lucky enough to participate in three of these events; with this year’s Winter Classic being their fourth foray into the outdoors.
2012 WINTER CLASSIC
On January 2, 2012 the Philadelphia Flyers welcomed the New York Rangers to Citizens Bank Park — home of MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies.
To the delight of the 46,967 fans in attendance the bitter rivals contested a marvelous game.
The Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the middle of the second period when Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux scored less than two minutes apart. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Mike Rupp scored 30 seconds after Giroux to cut the lead to 2-1.
From there it was all Rangers.
Rupp scored again, this time 2:41 into the third period to tie the game. Then Brad Richards scored less than three minutes later; giving the Blueshirts the lead.
In the end the Rangers reigned victorious; winning the game 3-2 and catapulting themselves into first-place in the then Atlantic Division.
2014 STADIUM SERIES (YANKEE STADIUM)
And two years later, the 7th Avenue Skaters finally got the chance to play at Yankee Stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
Two games separated by three days, saw the Rangers take on two of their blood rivals; the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.
On January 26, 2014 the Devils and Rangers locked horns in a snowy matinee.
Technically the Blueshirts were the visiting team for both Stadium Series games. But theoretically they were the home team.
Long-time Rangers nemesis Martin Brodeur opposed Henrik Lundqvist and the Blueshirts hung a six-spot on the Devils’ legendary netminder, enroute to a 7-3 win; thus inspiring the following memes.
“Martin Brodeur always wanted to play under the lights at Yankee Stadium, he just didn’t think they’d be red lights.” And “The great hockey goalie surrendered a touchdown, while playing at a Baseball Stadium and allowed the opposing team to score two points.”
Allan Kreda (NY Times Beat Writer) covered the game. “The fans were very into it. The whole thing was a party atmosphere regardless of outcome. The snow, colors and lights during the Rangers-Devils game made for quite the scene.”
Three days later the Islanders and Rangers took their turn at Yankee Stadium and the game couldn’t have been more different.
As Kreda recalls: “The Rangers-Islanders game took place at night and was much different from the game versus New Jersey. It was freezing outside. Beer cups were freezing on contact with the air. It was a thrill for the fans to be there. Even the usual animosity between the fanbases was absent; replaced by the thrill of a once in a lifetime moment.”
Through the freezing night these arch-rivals played and when the final horn sounded, the Blueshirts were 2-1 winners; thanks to a Daniel Carcillo goal 4:36 into the third period.
The total attendance for these two games was a whopping 100,132. Now that’s what you call a successful turnout.
Out of the 23 regular season outdoor games played by the NHL, the Rangers have participated in three and are a perfect 3-0.
Pat LaFontaine was lucky enough to play for both the Rangers and Sabres during his illustrious Hall of Fame career and he had this to say: “Think of the Super Bowl, but then remember that this is hockey. It’s the biggest event of the NHL calendar — at least during the regular season. The whole world gets to come together and celebrate the past while also looking towards the future. The mystique and excitement surrounding the Winter Classic is palpable. And it’s more than just a game; it’s a whole legacy.”