History of the Winter Classic

 By: Ma. Cielito Toledo
With the Winter Classic tickets now on sale, and the unveiling of the new Calgary Flames jerseys for the game, many people may be wondering, how much history is there behind the Winter Classic? And where did these crazy hockey fans get the idea to ice over a football field to have almost 60,000 dedicated hockey fans stand out in the cold to watch their team play?

Well, the first outdoor game of this kind was the NHL Heritage Classic, held in 2003 when the Montreal Canadians played the Edmonton Oilers at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The players and crowd of 57,167 people had to endure temperatures between -18C and -30C at the outdoor stadium. The game was almost canceled 30 minutes before game time due to concern over the temperature. It was so cold that Canadian's goalie Jose Theodore wore a tuque over the top of his goalie mask.

The idea of playing an outdoor game originated from the Cold War series between U.S. College rivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan in 2001. The Edmonton Oilers hosted the first NHL game of its kind to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Oilers joining the NHL, and in celebration of their first Stanley Cup, win 20 years before.

The original NHL Heritage Classic was preceded with a NHL Mega Star game, a game played between the best former players for either of the teams. NHL greats such as Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur, Jari Kurri, and Mark Messier were among the many past Stanley cup winners to appear in the game which the Oilers won 2-0.

The Heritage Classic was watched by 2.747 million Canadians on CBC, but was not televised in the United States. Since 2003 there have been three NHL Winter Classics, all of which have taken place outdoors on US soil. This year will mark the first of its kind, with two Winter Classic games taking place (rather than the traditional one game). It will also see the return to its Canadian roots, with the Calgary Flames hosting the Montreal Canadians at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, as well as the Washington Capitals playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
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