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The Winter Classic is a fun NHL tradition, even through these weather events

Friday, January 1st 2021, 5:54 am - Hockey is all fun and games until it's played outside and both teams have to face Mother Nature.

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The Winter Classic is an outdoor hockey game that is a part of the regular hockey season, but it's played outdoors, where the unpredictable elements live. The game takes place on, or very close to, New Year's Day.

The Winter Classic is based on the Heritage Classic in 2003, when the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens played in Edmonton, Alberta.

Jon Miller, who was the Executive Vice President of NBC Sports, first proposed the Winter Classic as a television opportunity in 2004. He pitched the idea to the National Hockey League (NHL), but they didn't think it could work.

In December 2006, Miller tried to pitch the idea again, this time, successfully. The Winter Classic is one of hockey's most-watched events, but there have certainly been complications due to, you guessed it, weather.

2008 - ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - RALPH WILSON STADIUM

Pittsburgh (2) at Buffalo (1) —— shootout

The Winter Classic's inaugural game was January 1, 2008, between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

Ralph Wilson Stadium (now Bills Stadium), near Buffalo, during the first Winter Classic in 2008 Ralph Wilson Stadium (now Bills Stadium), during the first Winter Classic. Courtesy of Falling Heavens/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

Even though there was hesitation with the Winter Classic idea, the first game ever played broke the record for the highest attended game, with a total of 71,217 fans in attendance. The success of the event helped propel the idea of future outdoor games and led to a well-received New Year's tradition.

Rule changes

The outdoor gameplay led to some rule changes. The NHL announced that the teams had to switch ends halfway through the third period. Exactly at the 10:00 minute mark, the game was interrupted and a new faceoff occurred at centre ice.

The overtime period was divided into two 2:30 parts. Each goaltender was able to choose which goal to defend for the shootout. They both chose the same goal.

The temperature was around freezing and there was persistent snow. The weather conditions made it challenging for the players but the fans loved it.

Sydney Crosby scored the game-winning goal.

2009 - CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - WRIGLEY FIELD

Detroit (6) at Chicago (4)

The Winter Classics pitted the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in Chicago. There were around 41,000 fans in attendance.

2009 Winter Classic Right before the game began. Courtesy of Army.mil/Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

The Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup the year before. They defended their championship by winning 6-4, though they were down 3-1 in the first period.

Because of the legacy of Wrigley Field as a baseball venue, Cubs' Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg sang a hockey variation of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Rule changes

The NHL announced another rule change, to account for any weather conditions. Considering the strong winds at Wrigley Field, the teams changed sides just after the halfway point of the third period.

2011 PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - HEINZ FIELD

Washington (3) at Pittsburgh (1)

The 2011 Winter Classic was scheduled for 1:00 pm, but a rain delay caused it to start at 8:00 pm and was played "under the lights." The game was between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL considered delaying the game altogether, but the players seem to be game. "I don't see anything wrong with playing under the lights here," Sidney Crosby said, adding, "I think that'd be pretty nice. We should all be enjoying ourselves no matter what the scenario."

The Capitals' coach Bruce Boudreau said, "As coaches and players, we don't care if we go at midnight," adding the affirmative, "Let's go."

The threat of rain pushed the start time from 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm ET. The threat of rain pushed the game from 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm ET. Courtesy of ann gav/Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

During the game Crosby collided with Dave Steckel of the Capitals, leaving Crosby with serious injuries.

Rule Change

Considering the high winds, the teams were told to change sides an additional time, at the halfway point of the third period.

2012 - PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - CITIZENS BANK PARK

NY Rangers (3) at Philadelphia (2)

The New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers played the fifth Winter Classic at the Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

The 2012 NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park The 2012 NHL Winter Classic opening ceremony at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA. Courtesy Centpacrr/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

This year the game was only delayed two hours, this time from warmer temperatures and associated sun glare. The puck dropped at 3:20 pm with a temperature of 7 °C. The skies were overcast and it rained for a bit during the second period.

The Rangers won 3–2.

2014 - ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - MICHIGAN STADIUM

Toronto (3) at Detroit (2) Shootout

This was the first time the Winter Classic was delayed a year due to the 2012-2013 NHL lockout. The game was initially scheduled for January 1, 2013, but ended up taking place on January 1, 2014.

The game was played between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. This was the first year a Canadian played in the Winter Classic (aside from the Heritage Classic).

1920px-2014 NHL Winter Classic before puck drop The 2014 NHL Winter Classic before the opening face-off. Courtesy of Matthew Barera/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

The 2014 Winter Classic was one of six outdoor games. The outdoor games where instead of the All-Star Game because of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

A total of 105,491 fans attended the 2014 Winter Classic. The weather conditions were rough, the temperature was below zero and there was snow and strong winds. The ref's whistle even stopped working because the little ball inside of it froze.

Toronto won 3-2 in a shootout.

2020 - DALLAS, TEXAS - COTTON BOWL

Nashville (2) at Dallas (4)

The 2020 Winter Classic was in Texas and played by the Nashville Predators and the Dallas Stars. The temperature that day was 20 °C. Because it was so warm and raining, the top layer of the ice melted, taking the white paint and logo down with it.

Fair Park August 2016 40 (Cotton Bowl Stadium) The Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas. Courtesy of Michael Barera/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

King planned for the warmer temperatures and rain, he instructed for the ice to be 2 to 2 1/2 inches thick instead of the regular 1 to 1 1/2 inch-thick ice. This was done so water could be removed from the surface instead of last-minute ice added.

The processes of creating NHL-ready ice is laborious, it involves spraying many layers of mist to create a dense, hard sheet.

A lot of ice drama went down before the actual game which the Nashville Predators ended up winning 4–2.

To hear more about how the weather has impacted the Winter Classic, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History".

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

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