I Booked The Next Six…Actually, Make That Seven…Winter Classics
Three in the Pacific time zone, two in famous college football venues, and one in a city that doesn’t have a team yet
One year from today, on January 1, 2019, the 11th NHL Winter Classic will be played at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. The Chicago Blackhawks will face the Boston Bruins.
I applaud the unconventional site. I think one of the best settings the event has had was the 2014 Toronto-Detroit game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, which also featured the announcement of the Team USA roster for that year’s Olympics as a postgame ceremony. The attendance was 105,491.
But these teams are retreads. 2019 will be the Blackhawks’ 4th time in the Winter Classic; the 3rd for the Bruins, who already have been the home team twice, at Fenway Park (2010) and Gillette Stadium (2016). Out of a possible 22 slots through the 2019 game, only 11 teams have been used to fill them. The Penguins, Sabres, Red Wings, Flyers, Capitals, and Rangers, are also repeaters. Do you remember anything about the 2015 Chicago-Washington game at Nationals Park? Don’t worry, nobody does.
I’m going to fix this right now. I’ve booked the next six Winter Classics, starting in 2020. Since the Classic’s inception, hockey fans have liked to speculate about where the next one would be; I’m going way beyond just one here.
We need fresh new teams and sites that will open up this event to more bustling and thriving regions all over North America. If the NHL would like to save themselves a lot of time and meetings, and just adopt the ideas written below, my fee is sixty G’s — 10 per game.
Wednesday, January 1, 2020: AT&T Park (San Francisco, CA): San Jose Sharks vs. Edmonton Oilers
A by-product of the success and popularity of the early Winter Classics was the creation of the Stadium Series, non-New Year’s outdoor games. Stadium Series games have been held on the West Coast, at Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks) and at the San Francisco 49ers’ home field, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara (Kings vs. Sharks). Yes, an ice rink can be maintained in California. It’s about time they had the main event on New Year’s Day.
From what I hear and read, everyone hates Levi’s Stadium. There’s no need to return there when the perfect setting for a Bay Area Winter Classic is this place.
I would pay good money to sit in that seat again and watch a hockey game with that view. Before you say “it won’t be cold”, I will say that I was there in July and yes it will, trust me. Also, weather for the last three outdoor games (December’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa, USA vs. Canada in a snowstorm at the World Junior Championship in Western New York, and this year’s Winter Classic in Queens) has been so frigid it borders on torturing the fans. We will have some potentially bitter cold games later on this list, ok? But it doesn’t have to be that way every year.
As for the Sharks opponent, I chose the Oilers because we’ve got to get Connor McDavid in one of these games. Hopefully American TV won’t freak out. I understand some of the matchups I’ve picked might be pipe dreams, but for the sake of this exercise let’s pretend we live in a perfect world where the NHL and NBC do the right thing.
I would also hope to get Oilers legends like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier to participate somehow, and the Bay Area has plenty of legendary beloved athletes, both current and retired, that should be available.
Friday, January 1, 2021: Neyland Stadium (Knoxville, TN), Nashville Predators vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
We went west last year; now we’re headed south. Hat tip to my friend and colleague J.D. Lindberg because I originally had this at the Tennessee Titans’ stadium in Nashville, but he immediately suggested the University of Tennessee. That was a great call because Neyland can hold six figures so an attempt can be made to break Michigan’s attendance number. It will also be a quite a sight to see hockey fans “sailgating” in Knoxville, and performances by the numerous country musicians that follow the Predators could make for some of the better TV images the Classic has had.
With the team choices here, I’m hoping they are both still good and think they will be. They seem to be solid organizations, having great seasons this year and both have recently been a conference champion.
Saturday, January 1, 2022: Target Field (Minneapolis, MN), Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars
There, cold weather. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain or snow too badly because this game pretty much has to be played at noon local time in order to be done before NFL wild-card playoffs later in the day.
I don’t think I need to explain why the State of Hockey needs to have one of these games. It might be unfair to have guys who live in Texas play in it, and I could be talked into another team, but I picked the Stars as the Wild’s opponent since they are the former Minnesota North Stars and I will have them wear the timeless North Star jerseys.
Monday, January 2, 2023: Ohio Stadium (Columbus, OH), Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Detroit Red Wings
Take note of the date. Like in 2012 and 2017, January 1 lands on a Sunday in 2023 and we’re moving away from the NFL and possible college football playoffs. Plus, I’m doing this as a night game.
It’s the only time on this list I’m using a team that has played in a previous Winter Classic, but the Ohio State-Michigan angle is too easy not to do.
Get ready. We’re getting funky with the last two…
Monday, January 1, 2024: Stadium Currently Being Constructed For The Raiders, Name TBA (Las Vegas, NV): Vegas Golden Knights vs. Los Angeles Kings
A Winter Classic in an NFL stadium is not easy logistically. It basically can only be done if New Year’s lands during Week 17 and you can ask your friends in football to send the local team on the road, then hustle out of there after it’s over in case they need their yard back for a home playoff game the next week.
2024 is the only year on my list where this could happen; in all other years New Year’s is a playoff weekend. I stress the word “could” because a Winter Classic in Las Vegas, which I really, really, want to do, is only possible if the 2023 NFL season begins on Thursday, September 7 and not August 31. If it starts September 7, then Week 17 lands on December 31, just as it did in 2017.
As for the venue, this stadium is supposed to have a roof on it, so how is it an outdoor game? Well, it also will have what I guess can be called retractable glass exterior walls, which can expose the place to the elements and provide views of the Las Vegas Strip. The roof will be a glass dome.
It’s not perfect, but as I was saying I really, really want to have a Las Vegas Winter Classic. It would also be an homage to the NHL’s first-ever outdoor game, a 1991 preseason tilt between Gretzky’s L.A. Kings and the New York Rangers at Caesar’s Palace.
The way the Golden Knights are going, by then they probably will have won three Stanley Cups.
Now for the surprise twist…
Wednesday, January 1, 2025: New Name TBA But Currently Known As Safeco Field (Seattle, WA): Seattle Thunderbirds (expansion team) vs. Vancouver Canucks
The NHL has granted a Seattle ownership group the right to apply for an expansion franchise, which would be the league’s 32nd team. It almost seems like getting a “Save The Date” in the mail. You’re going to be invited to the wedding; why not just send an invitation is something I don’t understand, but whatever.
Figure Seattle will have their team by 2025 if one big issue can get resolved: building an arena. It’s been kind of a problem and controversial issue out there. In my previous article on this site, I wrote that Seattle’s arena issues were a minor and indirect reason why Kevin Durant now plays for the Golden State Warriors.
The Seattle Thunderbirds today are a major junior team in the Western Hockey League, even though they do not play in the city limits. I love that name and think the NHL Seattle group should buy it.
A WHL game can also be played during the week. It’s been common for other leagues with teams in the local area to have an outdoor game at the Winter Classic site.
The Canucks are the obvious opponent because of the geographic rivalry they will have, but again if American TV freaks out and puts their foot down this time, I could pick a U.S. team to replace them. Perhaps the Colorado Avalanche.
Oh, what the hell, one more. I just thought of it now.
Thursday, January 1, 2026: Rogers Centre, With The Roof Open And Assuming It’s Still Standing (Toronto, ON): Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Philadelphia Flyers
It’s the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame, so Toronto should have one of these already. I would prefer to have the Leafs play the Ottawa Senators here in an all-Ontario matchup, but even in our perfect-world scenario, I don’t expect two Canadian teams will fly with the suits.
I don’t feel that strongly about the Flyers, but by 2026 it will have been 14 years since their last Winter Classic appearance. Choose a different team from the U.S. if you want to. Anybody but the Blackhawks.