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The NHL Winter Classic: Hockey’s Ultimate Chill

After a COVID hiatus, the NHL’s marquee annual event is scheduled to take place amidst artic temperatures in Minneapolis. We look back on the history of one hockey’s greatest traditions.

The wait is over, and after a weeklong pause, the NHL is back.

Starting Wednesday, hockey rinks everywhere began filling once again with the game’s elite-level athletes and most rabid fans alike.

But this weekend in Minneapolis, fans will steel themselves against expected sub-zero temperatures for one of the hockey calendar’s crowning events: The NHL Winter Classic.

The event returns after a year-long hiatus, and the league is pulling out all the stops. All eyes will be on the State of Hockey as the Minnesota Wild (19-9-2) and St. Louis Blues (17-9-5) battle it out for the top spot in the Western Conference’s Central Division in what could become the coldest game in NHL history.

With 2022 now upon us, we take a look at this year’s game and how the Winter Classic has come to be as synonymous with New Year’s Day as the NFL is with Thanksgiving.

Hockey Steps Outside

Although hockey is undoubtedly one of the coldest games, the viewing experience in arenas across the country is actually amongst one of the most pleasant in professional sports.

To match the grit of the sport and pay homage to its historic, outdoor roots, the NHL launched the Winter Classic in 2008.

In that first matchup, the Buffalo Sabres took on Pittsburgh Penguins at the famed Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, the home of the NFL’s Bills. And the series was born with a bang, resulting in a 2-1 victory for the Pens that came in a shootout in front of a crowd of 71,217 rabid fans.

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Through the years the event has become a fan favorite, showcasing unforgettable on-ice action across multiple cities. The Winter Classic notably pulls in huge crowds at some of the country’s most iconic outdoor venues spanning multiple sports, including baseball and both college and professional football.

It’s proven to be hugely profitable for the league, too — the 2014 event, which brought over 100,000 fans to Michigan Stadium, earned the NHL approximately $20 million, with overall revenues from the event reaching $30 million.

One of the greatest markers of the Winter Classic is each team’s uniforms, which harken back to the vintage roots of the NHL. Each team wears throwback sweaters and oftentimes will sport retro-inspired equipment as a call-back to the sport’s deep history.

  • Most Winter Classic Appearances: Chicago Blackhaws (4), Boston Bruins (3), and 6 teams with 2 appearances each
  • Largest Crowd: 105,491, Toronto Maple Leafs v. Detroit Red Wings @ Michigan Stadium, 2014
  • Highest Viewership: 4.5 million (NBC), New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 2012

Since 2008, the Winter Classic has become a New Year’s staple, with just two exceptions: January 2014, when the game was postponed due to the league’s lockout, and last year, when COVID-19 temporarily put the game on a different kind of ice.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings at the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on January 1, 2014 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Inside the 2022 NHL Winter Classic

Even in the wake of over 50 cancellations so far this season, league officials are hopeful that after a year-long hiatus, The Winter Classic will go off without a hitch.

“We’re relatively healthy when it comes to COVID vis-a-vis those two teams,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of the Wild and Blues. “I obviously hope it stays that way. But I see nothing at this point that gets in the way of us having a fantastic Winter Classic. I think Minnesota is going to be a fabulous host. We’re very excited about the venue. We’re very excited about the experience, and I think all of our fans should be looking forward to it.”

  • Who: St. Louis Blues v. Minesota Wild. The Wild and Blues have faced off 85 times during the regular season (STL: 43-28-14-100; MIN: 37-31-17-91) & twice in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (2015, 2017)
  • Where: Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • When: Jan. 1, 2022, 7 p.m. ET
  • How to Watch: TNT & NHL LIVE (US), SN1 & TVAS (Canada)
  • Ticket Prices: $105-465 on the secondary market
  • Weather Forecast: Mostly cloudy, -4° F
  • Key Sponsors: Pre- and in-game activations will be plentiful, with various pop ups brought by:
    • Discover (this year’s title sponsor)
    • Truly
    • Bud Light
    • Clorox
    • Dunkin’
    • MCR Safety
    • Great Clips
    • Honda
    • Pepsi Zero Sugar
    • Upper Deck
    • Verizon

Inside the stadium, organizers will lean into this year’s theme of “The State of Hockey.”

While the center ice will serve as the host to the big game, it will be surrounded by eight pop-up rinks, which are meant to resemble the state of Minnesota’s famed 10,000 lakes that play host to countless pond hockey games each winter. Clubs from around the state will skate on the auxiliary ice, including Hockey Is For Me, which aims to introduce the sport in diverse communities throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul region.

Each auxiliary rink will be accessorized with Minnesota symbols, including log cabins, fishing holes, lumberjacks, and a makeshift dock doubling as an entertainment stage that will host a New Year’s Eve bash featuring country star Thomas Rhett the night before the big game.

In addition to the game itself, there will also be the Truly Hard Seltzer NHL PreGame, which will be open to the public outside of Target Field.

Plus, viewers at home will have a sneak peek with the limited-release docu-series Road to the NHL Winter Classic, which is produced in partnership with TNT. Each episode brings fans behind the scenes, offering an exclusive look as the two teams prepare for the legendary outdoor game.

The return of The Winter Classic provides the NHL with the perfect play for sparking new fans. Although fans attending Saturday’s matchup will undoubtedly set personal records for number of layers worn, they will be treated to an experience to remember on top of it all.

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