The National Hockey League (NHL) first held a regular season outdoor ice hockey game in 2003, and since 2008 the league has scheduled at least one per year.

The NHL primarily uses three brands for outdoor games: the Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series. The Heritage Classic has been infrequently held four times, and has thus far featured match-ups between Canadian teams. The 2003 Heritage Classic between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens was the first outdoor regular season game in NHL history. This led to the annual Winter Classic, held on New Year's Day in the United States, starting with the 2008 game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres. The NHL then started the Stadium Series in 2014 for additional outdoor games. The number of Stadium series games has since varied per season (four in 2014, two in 2016, and only one each in 2015, 2017, and 2018). Both the Winter Classic and the Stadium series featured match-ups solely between American teams until the Toronto Maple Leafs' appearances in both the 2014 Winter Classic and the 2018 Stadium Series.

To celebrate the NHL's 100 year anniversary in 2017, the league scheduled two special outdoor games: the NHL Centennial Classic between Detroit and Toronto on January 1 (through season 2016-2017) to kick off the year, and then the NHL 100 Classic on December 16 (during 2017-2018 season) between Montreal and the Ottawa Senators to commemorate the league's very first game, having taken place exactly 100 years before, between the same contenders. The four teams involved in said honorific matches, alongside Boston and New York, constitute the sprinkling count of the league's earliest members.

Prior to 2003, NHL teams had been involved in at least three outdoor exhibitions. Two of these came in the 1950s and were effectively informal scrimmages; in 1954, the Detroit Red Wings visited Marquette Branch Prison and played a match against the prison inmates in a fenced-off, open air ice rink, while in 1956, the Boston Bruins played a game against several local teams in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland. In neither case was a formal game structure maintained or score kept, as the NHL teams hopelessly outmatched the hosts. In 1991, the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers played a pre-season game outside in Caesars Palace parking lot in Las Vegas, in the first officially sanctioned outdoor NHL contest.

The NHL's outdoor series have proven wildly popular with fans and have led to numerous attendance records. The 2003 Heritage Classic drew 57,167 fans, a league record that stood until 71,217 fans in Buffalo set another NHL record in the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008. The 2014 Winter Classic, between Toronto and the Detroit Red Wings drew 105,491 fans, the current NHL record.

History[edit | edit source]

The first outdoor game on record to feature an NHL team was attempted on February 2, 1954.[1] The Detroit Red Wings played an exhibition game on an outdoor ice surface, in 21F (-6C) degree weather, against the Marquette Pirates, an athletic club composed of inmates at Michigan's Marquette Branch Prison. The game, and the Pirates club, was allegedly organized as a way for Red Wings manager Jack Adams to make good with two convicted mafia members incarcerated at the prison. By the end of the first period alone, the Red Wings had amassed an 18–0 score against the prisoners; score keeping was abandoned after that point and the rest of the game effectively became an informal scrimmage.[2]

Two years after the 1954 prison match, the Boston Bruins went on a postseason barnstorm of Atlantic Canada in April 1956, which included a stop in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland. On April 9, 1956 the Bruins played an exhibition game against teams from the Conception Bay North Hockey League on an outdoor artificial ice surface, under similar rules to those of the 1954 prison match. Four teams each played one period against the Bruins who dominated the game. Only one goal was scored on Terry Sawchuk by the local teams.[3]

During their time at the Civic Arena, the Pittsburgh Penguins could have theoretically hosted an outdoor NHL game due to the arena having a retractable roof. (The arena was originally built for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, who only stayed at the arena until 1973.) However, the roof was always closed during hockey games with both the Penguins and their AHL predecessors, the Pittsburgh Hornets, whom the Penguins replaced upon the 1967 NHL expansion. The roof was permanently closed after 1994 when the Penguins replaced the center scoreboard.[4]

File:2011 Heritage Classic faceoff.png

The Flames and Canadiens at the 2011 Heritage Classic

The first outdoor game between two NHL teams (and the first played to completion) was an official pre-season match-up on September 27, 1991. The game took place in the parking lot of Caesars Palace[5] in Las Vegas, Nevada, and featured the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers.[6] The process of keeping the ice cool in the desert heat required three times as much coolant as a standard NHL rink.[7] There were few problems despite temperatures that reached 95F (35C) during the day and a game time temperature of 80F (27C).[7] During the contest grasshoppers began to jump onto the ice, where they would freeze or drown in water used to maintain the ice, and by the end of the second period the ice was littered with the bugs.[6] Nearly 14,000 fans watched the Kings defeat the Rangers 5–2.[8] Since 1997, the Los Angeles Kings have returned to Las Vegas to play an annual indoors preseason game as part of the Frozen Fury series. As of the 2017-2018 season Las Vegas has its own NHL franchise.

The first regular-season outdoor game in the history of the NHL took place on November 22, 2003, at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, when the Edmonton Oilers played the Montreal Canadiens in the 2003 Heritage Classic.[9] The Oilers had suggested the idea of hosting an outdoor game as early as the mid 1980s,[10] but the genesis of the 2003 event was the "Cold War" outdoor game played two years prior between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.[11]

In 2005, NBC Sports Executive VP Jon Miller then pitched the concept an annual outdoor game as a television event to the NHL, "but they didn't find the concept workable."[12] In December 2006, Miller found an ally in then-league Executive VP/Business & Media John Collins, who embraced the idea.[13][14] This led to the inaugural Winter Classic game on January 1, 2008, with the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium.[9]

On May 1, 2013, the NHL announced that the Chicago Blackhawks would host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field in Chicago on March 1, 2014, as part of a new series of outdoor games called the NHL Stadium Series.[15] By the end of May 2013, the NHL had scheduled a record six outdoor NHL games for the 2013–14 season: one Winter Classic, one Heritage Classic, and four Stadium Series games.

In scheduling outdoor games in the New York metropolitan area that feature the New York Rangers (first occurring during two of the four 2014 Stadium Series games, and subsequently the 2018 Winter Classic), the team has always been designated as the "away" team. This is to maintain the property tax-exempt status of the Rangers' home arena, Madison Square Garden (MSG). The tax exemption stipulates that it only applies if the Rangers do not "cease playing" home games at MSG, generally interpreted as playing any "home" game outside of MSG.[16][17] By designating the Rangers as the "away" team and Buffalo as the "home" team in the 2018 Winter Classic at Citi Field in New York City, it would save MSG from paying more than $40 million in property taxes.[18]

In 2016, the Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers worked out an agreement to play a home-and-home series of outdoors games.[19] The two archrivals played the 2017 Stadium Series game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, and will follow with the 2019 Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The two teams had also discussed playing a neutral site game at Beaver Stadium at State College, Pennsylvania, but this did not materialize, due mainly to concerns about Beaver Stadium's plumbing being unable to withstand an event in winter[20][19] On March 6, 2016, the NHL officially announced that the Jets will host the Oilers in the 2016 Heritage Classic during the 2016–17 NHL season, held in October.[21]

To celebrate the NHL's 100th year in 2017, the league held two special outdoor games. The first, branded as the Centennial Classic, between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, was held on January 1 (during the 2016–17 NHL season) to kick off the year.[22] The second, branded as the NHL 100 Classic, was held on December 16 (during the 2017–18 season) between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators.[23]

When the 2018 NHL Stadium Series at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the U.S. Naval Academy was announced, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that it was the start of a unique partnership with the U.S. military in which the league plans to host outdoor games at military service academies around the United States.[24] The 2020 NHL Stadium Series will then be held at Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy.[25]

Hosting statistics[edit | edit source]

As of 2019:

  • 23 of the NHL's 31 teams will have participated in an outdoor regular-season game, with a 24th (Dallas) and 25th (Nashville) set to play their first outdoor game in 2020 against each other. The six that have not yet been selected are Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay and Vegas.
  • 12 teams will have played more than one game.
  • Chicago has made the most appearances (6).
  • 19 metropolitan areas (soon to be 20 in 2020, out of 28 represented among the league's 31 teams) have hosted outdoor regulation games. In addition to the eight (to be six) metropolitan areas represented by teams that have not played in any outdoor games, Montreal has played in outdoor games but has yet to host any themselves, though Nashville will also play its first outdoor game on the road in 2020 (New Jersey has also not yet hosted a home game in its home state despite having the capacity to do so, its home city of Newark is still part of the New York metropolitan area.)
  • New York City and Chicago/Northern Indiana have each hosted three games. Massachusetts, Maryland–DC, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Winnipeg/Eastern Prairies will have each hosted twice by 2020.
  • Yankee Stadium and Heinz Field will have each hosted two games.
  • In late 2019, Saskatchewan (a province that has been a longshot candidate for NHL expansion for decades) is slated to become the first fully neutral-site territory to host an outdoor game, with Winnipeg as the nominal home team (their second).

Cancelled games[edit | edit source]

The Dallas Stars had originally been scheduled to play a stadium game at Houston's Reliant Stadium during their 2011 pre-season, but this game was ultimately cancelled.[26][27][28]

The 2013 NHL Winter Classic was originally scheduled to be contested at Michigan Stadium between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Due to the 2012–13 NHL lockout resulting in an abbreviated 2012–13 season, this Winter Classic matchup at Michigan Stadium was postponed and held during the following season instead.[29][30][31][32][33]

The Winnipeg Jets announced in 2013 that they had reached an agreement with the NHL to host a fourth Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field, the home of the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, which they hoped to hold during the team's fifth anniversary in 2015–16.[34] However, a disagreement occurred between the NHL and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the game's exact date: the league wanted it held in December 2015 while the football team became concerned that this date was too close to the 103rd Grey Cup being held at the stadium on November 29.[35] In January 2015, the Jets announced that they could not reach an agreement to finalize a date for the Heritage Classic during the 2015–16 season and that they were now looking for a new date during the 2016–2017 season.[36] On March 6, 2016, the NHL officially announced that the Jets would host the Oilers in the 2016 Heritage Classic during the 2016–17 NHL season, held in October.[21]

List of NHL outdoor games[edit | edit source]

Bolded teams denote winners

Date Event Site Away team Home team Score Attendance
February 2, 1954 exhibition game Marquette Branch Prison,
Marquette, Michigan
Detroit Red Wings Marquette Prison Pirates[37] Not kept after 1st period 0
April 9, 1956 Conception Bay Sports Arena,
Bay Roberts, Newfoundland
Boston Bruins Bay Roberts, Brigus,
Shearstown, Coley's Point
(1 period each) [38]
?-1 unknown
September 27, 1991 Caesars Palace,
Las Vegas, Nevada
New York Rangers Los Angeles Kings 5–2 13,007
November 22, 2003 Heritage Classic Commonwealth Stadium,
Edmonton, Alberta
Montreal Canadiens Edmonton Oilers 4–3 57,167
January 1, 2008 Winter Classic Ralph Wilson Stadium,
Orchard Park, New York
Pittsburgh Penguins Buffalo Sabres 2–1 (SO) 71,217
January 1, 2009 Wrigley Field,
Chicago, Illinois
Detroit Red Wings Chicago Blackhawks 6–4 40,818
January 1, 2010 Fenway Park,
Boston, Massachusetts
Philadelphia Flyers Boston Bruins 2–1 (OT) 38,112
January 1, 2011 Heinz Field,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Washington Capitals Pittsburgh Penguins 3–1 68,111
February 20, 2011 Heritage Classic McMahon Stadium,
Calgary, Alberta
Montreal Canadiens Calgary Flames 4–0 41,022
January 2, 2012 Winter Classic Citizens Bank Park,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers 3–2 46,967
January 1, 2014 Michigan Stadium,
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Toronto Maple Leafs Detroit Red Wings 3–2 (SO) 105,491
January 25, 2014


Stadium Series Dodger Stadium,
Los Angeles, California
Anaheim Ducks Los Angeles Kings 3–0 54,099
January 26, 2014


Yankee Stadium,
New York, New York
New York Rangers New Jersey Devils 7–3 50,105
January 29, 2014


New York Islanders 2–1 50,027
March 1, 2014


Soldier Field,
Chicago, Illinois
Pittsburgh Penguins Chicago Blackhawks 5–1 62,921[42]
March 2, 2014


Heritage Classic BC Place,
Vancouver, British Columbia
Ottawa Senators Vancouver Canucks 4–2 54,194
January 1, 2015


Winter Classic Nationals Park,
Washington, D.C.
Chicago Blackhawks Washington Capitals 3–2 42,832
February 21, 2015 Stadium Series Levi's Stadium,
Santa Clara, California
Los Angeles Kings San Jose Sharks 2–1 70,205
January 1, 2016 Winter Classic Gillette Stadium,
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Montreal Canadiens Boston Bruins 5–1 67,246
February 21, 2016 Stadium Series TCF Bank Stadium,
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Chicago Blackhawks Minnesota Wild 6–1 50,426
February 27, 2016 Coors Field,
Denver, Colorado
Detroit Red Wings Colorado Avalanche 5–3 50,095
October 23, 2016 Heritage Classic Investors Group Field,
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Edmonton Oilers Winnipeg Jets 3–0 33,240
January 1, 2017 Centennial Classic BMO Field,
Toronto, Ontario
Detroit Red Wings Toronto Maple Leafs 5–4 (OT) 40,148[43][44][45]
January 2, 2017 Winter Classic Busch Stadium,
St. Louis, Missouri
Chicago Blackhawks St. Louis Blues 4–1 46,556
February 25, 2017 Stadium Series Heinz Field,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins 4–2 67,318
December 16, 2017 NHL 100 Classic TD Place Stadium,
Ottawa, Ontario
Montreal Canadiens Ottawa Senators 0–3 33,959
January 1, 2018 Winter Classic Citi Field,
New York, New York
New York Rangers Buffalo Sabres 3–2 (OT) 41,821
March 3, 2018 Stadium Series Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium,
Annapolis, Maryland
Toronto Maple Leafs Washington Capitals 2–5 29,516
January 1, 2019 Winter Classic Notre Dame Stadium,
Notre Dame, Indiana
Boston Bruins Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 76,126
February 23, 2019 Stadium Series Lincoln Financial Field,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh Penguins Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 (OT) 69,620
October 26, 2019 Heritage Classic Mosaic Stadium,
Regina, Saskatchewan
Calgary Flames Winnipeg Jets
January 1, 2020 Winter Classic Cotton Bowl Stadium,
Dallas, Texas
Nashville Predators Dallas Stars
February 15, 2020 Stadium Series Falcon Stadium,
Air Force Academy, Colorado
Los Angeles Kings Colorado Avalanche

Outdoor games by team[edit | edit source]

Team Number of
Appearances Wins Losses
Anaheim Ducks 1 0 1 2014 1 0
Boston Bruins 3 2 1 2010, 2016, 2019 2 1
Buffalo Sabres 2 2 0 2008, 2018 0 2
Calgary Flames 2 1 1 2011, 2019 1 0
Chicago Blackhawks 6 3 3 2009, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 1 5
Colorado Avalanche 2 2 0 2016, 2020 0 1
Dallas Stars 1 1 0 2020 0 0
Detroit Red Wings 4 1 3 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017 2 2
Edmonton Oilers 2 1 1 2003, 2016 1 1
Los Angeles Kings 3 1 2 2014, 2015, 2020 1 1
Minnesota Wild 1 1 0 2016 1 0
Montreal Canadiens 4 0 4 2003, 2011, 2016, 2017 2 2
Nashville Predators 1 0 1 2020 0 0
New Jersey Devils 1 1 0 2014 0 1
New York Islanders 1 1 0 2014 0 1
New York Rangers 4 0 4 2012, 2014 (2 games), 2018 4 0
Ottawa Senators 2 1 1 2014, 2017 2 0
Philadelphia Flyers 4 2 2 2010, 2012, 2017, 2019 1 3
Pittsburgh Penguins 5 2 3 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017, 2019 2 2
San Jose Sharks 1 1 0 2015 0 1
St. Louis Blues 1 1 0 2017 1 0
Toronto Maple Leafs 3 1 2 2014, 2017, 2018 2 1
Vancouver Canucks 1 1 0 2014 0 1
Washington Capitals 3 2 1 2011, 2015, 2018 3 0
Winnipeg Jets 2 2 0 2016, 2019 0 1

Note: This table excludes exhibition games with non-NHL opponents (such as those in 1954 and 1956) and pre-season games (such as the one in 1991).

(*) The Rangers have officially been designated as the away team for the three games held in New York City to comply with a property tax exemption for Madison Square Garden that requires the Rangers to play all of their home games at the arena.

Italics indicate a future outdoor game.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Detroit Red Wings Head for Prison", The Milwaukee Journal, February 2, 1954, pg. 13
  2. Red Wings Played Prison Football Team In 1954. (March 24, 2010). Retrieved on February 16, 2011.
  3. 1956 Boston Bruins tour. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  4. Home Sweet Dome. Pittsburgh Magazine (1970-05-02). Retrieved on 2013-12-23.
  5. Springer, Steve. "Ice in Desert? It's No Mirage Hockey: Kings, Rangers play in Caesars Palace parking lot tonight.", Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1991. Retrieved on November 24, 2010. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Huskey, Melody (December 31, 2008). Kings No Stranger To Outdoor Game. Archived from the original on October 1, 2011. Retrieved on November 24, 2010.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Thomas, Robert. "1991–1992 N.F.L. SEASON; Gamble Works: Rangers Play In Las Vegas", The New York Times, August 29, 1991. Retrieved on November 24, 2010. 
  8. Save the Date – Frozen Fury XIII – OCT. 2, 2010 Take A Look Back at the history of Frozen Fury. Retrieved on November 24, 2010.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Caurchidi, Sam (January 3, 2012). How the Winter Classic snowballed. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved on January 7, 2012.
  10. Dolezar, Jon A.. "The great outdoors", Sports Illustrated, 2003-11-14. Retrieved on 2013-11-19. 
  11. It's Nice Outside—Oilers Stage Heritage Classic. Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. Archived from the original on 2012-02-06. Retrieved on 2013-11-19.
  12. Wyshynski, Greg. "Chatting with NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood about Winter Classic, cable cam for hockey, Mike Milbury and HBO '24/7'", Yahoo! Sports, December 21, 2010. Retrieved on December 22, 2010. 
  13. Brink, Bill. "Winter Classic is a cool concept", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 26, 2010
  14. Dowbiggen, Bruce. "How hockey found its signature moment", The Globe and Mail, December 30, 2010
  15. Hawks to host Pens outside as part of 'Stadium Series'. National Hockey League (May 1, 2013). Retrieved on May 1, 2013.
  16. "Rangers on Road in the Bronx? Money May Be Why", The New York Times, January 25, 2014. Retrieved on January 3, 2017. 
  17. Sabres to play Rangers in 2018 Winter Classic. Vox Media. Retrieved on May 12, 2017.
  18. Benjamin, Cody. "Sabres 'hosting' 2018 Winter Classic vs. Rangers reportedly saves MSG $40M", May 12, 2017. Retrieved on May 15, 2017. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Molinari, Dave (2016-02-05). Penguins, Flyers planning home-and-home series of outdoors games | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved on 2016-03-06.
  20. Penn St. officials looking to renovate or replace stadium in near future. (October 1, 2015). Retrieved on October 21, 2015.
  21. 21.0 21.1 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic coming to Winnipeg. NHL (March 6, 2016). Retrieved on March 6, 2016.
  22. "Detroit Red Wings, Maple Leafs set to play outdoor Centennial Classic", Detroit Free Press, Gannett. Retrieved on 10 March 2016. 
  23. Senators to host Canadiens in outdoor NHL game Dec. 16 at TD Place. Retrieved on 18 March 2017.
  24. NHL announces plan to host outdoor games at military academies (29 May 2017). Retrieved on 2 June 2017.
  25. Kesting, Amanda (January 1, 2019). NHL Stadium Series coming back to Colorado in 2020. KUSA-TV. Retrieved on January 2, 2019.
  26. Gardner, Brad (June 21, 2011). Dallas Stars To Play Pre-Season Game At Reliant Stadium in Houston.
  27. Hughes, Travis (June 21, 2011). Dallas Stars To Play Preseason Game At Houston's Reliant Stadium.
  28. Gardner, Brad (July 5, 2011). Stars' Preseason Game in Houston at Reliant Stadium Cancelled.
  29. "Red Wings, Maple Leafs to meet in 2014 NHL Winter Classic", CBC Sports, April 7, 2013. Retrieved on April 7, 2013. 
  30. Michigan regents approve renting Michigan Stadium to NHL for Winter Classic. Click on Detroit. Archived from the original on February 10, 2012. Retrieved on February 8, 2012.
  31. "Decision day arrives for NHL's Winter Classic", The Buffalo News. Retrieved on November 2, 2012. 
  32. "Source: Winter Classic canceled",, November 2, 2012. Retrieved on November 2, 2012. 
  33. Johnston, Chris (December 30, 2013). NHL dreaming 'Big' for Winter Classic. Sportsnet. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  34. Lawless, Gary. "Winnipeg lands Heritage Classic", Winnipeg Free Press, 2013-12-10, p. D3. Retrieved on 2013-12-10. 
  35. Johnston, Mike. "Winnipeg Heritage Classic postponed until 2016", Sportsnet, 2015-01-20. Retrieved on 2015-05-31. 
  36. "Statement Regarding the Heritage Classic", Winnipeg Jets, 2015-01-20. Retrieved on 2015-01-20. 
  37. Wings' first outdoor game was in prison. Retrieved on 2013-12-23.
  38. 1956 Boston Bruins tour. NLHHS. Retrieved on 2016-03-06.
  39. Dodger Stadium to host Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks in January. Retrieved on 2013-12-23.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Stadium Series New York event to feature Islanders, Devils and Rangers at Yankee Stadium. Retrieved on 2013-12-23.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 Blackhawks to host Penguins outdoors as part of Stadium Series. Retrieved on 2013-12-23.
  42. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks beat Penguins at snowy Soldier Field. Retrieved on 2014-03-02.
  43. "Overtime in Centennial Classic? Naturally", Toronto Star, 2017-01-01. Retrieved on 2018-06-23. 
  44. "Game Summary". National Hockey League. Retrieved on 2018-06-22.
  45. "Game HQ". ESPN. Retrieved on 2017-01-01.

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