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Why is the NHL Winter Classic played outdoors?

Ice hockey’s first indoor game was played in 1875 in Montreal. Before that is was a strictly outdoors game like the NHL’s Winter Classic games.

Ice hockey's first indoor game was played in 1875 in Montreal. Before that is was a strictly outdoors game like the NHL's Winter Classic games.
Brad PennerUSA TODAY Sports

We may be in the thick of summer, but hockey never stops for those who eat, sleep and live the sport. It may not be hockey season and it may not be cold outside, but kids across North America and across the world are at summer camps or training with their teams.

No one really knows when hockey was invented

Stick and ball games date all the way back to the ancient societies of Ancient Greece and Egypt. While those games were presumably similar to the hockey we know today, one thing is certain. None of those ancient hockey games were played on ice.

Ice hockey’s origins are a bit fuzzy, but there is documentation in paintings of people on ice using sticks to push a ball around the ice. These paintings are dated back to the 16th and 17th century according to Phil Pritchard, who is the curator at the Hockey Hall of Fame. “There’s a painting in the 1500s of people playing something on ice that looks like hockey.”

There are a few things needed to play ice hockey outside. Obviously it has to be cold. Then you need a mass of water capable of freezing and withstanding a group of people on top without breaking. Paintings from Scottland, England and the Netherlands have sprouted up suggesting the early origins of hockey come from the European continent.

Montreal hosted first indoor game in 1875

Back then, and even centuries later there were no rinks, or stadiums that had a groomed, fit for play rink. So the early games were played in frigid temperatures on frozen bodies of water. That how many youngsters who are raised in ice cold climates learn how to play.

Canada, like Brazil with soccer, may not have invented the sport, but they have perfected it. The first official hockey game in an indoor rink was played in Montreal back in 1875. Since that day Montreal has been a reference for hockey in North American and globally. They have more Stanley Cups than any team in history, and despite a Cup drought that spans over the three decades, Montreal is still know as the cradle of ice hockey.

So when the NHL was looking to bump up ratings and draw interest to the regular season they had the idea of bringing hockey back to its roots. Back to the outdoors. It only made sense to do it in Canada, and only made sense to have the Canadiens as part of the event. In 2003 Montreal traveled to Edmonton to play in the first regular season outdoor hockey game in NHL history.

Red Wings played prisoners in 1954

There had been a couple exhibitions between NHL and non NHL teams in the 1950s. The first one took place in February of 1954 in what seems to be a match up fit for the big screens of Hollywood. The legendary Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings went to Marquette Prison to take on a team assembled of inmates. The Red Wings would go on to smash the prisoners. Detroit went up 18-0 in the first period, and then it was decided that they would stop keeping score.

Two years later the Boston Bruins played a couple different teams in an exhibition in Newfoundland. It wasn’t until 1993 that two NHL teams meet on an out door rink when the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings played at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

The attraction of the Winter Classic

The first Winter Classic ever played was on January 1st, 2008 when the Pittsburgh Penguins went to Buffalo and played to a shootout in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Western New York. Since then there have been over 30 Winter Classics played all over North America.

The Winter Classic is as appetizing for the hockey fanatic and casual spectator as it is for the league. For fans it a chance to see hockey how it was played centuries ago. Outside, in frigid temperatures sometimes in the midst of a blizzard. That immediately attracts thousands more fans than you would have in a typical regular season game. Television advertisements cost more, as the audience grows which makes these games mid season gold mines for the NHL. The games are also played in bigger, outdoor stadiums that can hold much more people than a normal hockey rink.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the most weathered team when it comes to the Winter Classics. They have participated a total of six, but have won just one of those six games. They have hosted the Winter Classic three times, tied for most with the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche.