The Winter Classic was recently played in the freezing elements of Target Field in Minnesota, and fans of the NHL were treated to an entertaining and much-anticipated game. The St. Louis Blues ended up with the win against their Central Division rival Minnesota Wild 6-4 in a game with quick shots on the net and plenty of open ice for both teams to create scoring chances, despite the elements.
Every season, the most anticipated regular season game for both common and passionate hockey fans is the Winter Classic, and understandably so. The NHL moves outdoors, oftentimes braves the weather conditions, and plays a game on a newly built hockey rink in a stadium that can, often times, seat over 100,000 fans. The game tends to leads to speculation about where the NHL will go next, and which stadiums or sites it will play a future Winter Classic with some sites being ideal destinations for the game.
Lambeau Field is the home for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, and is one of the oldest stadiums in the league having opened in 1957. Named after former Packers coach and owner Curly Lambeau, the stadium has been renovated numerous times and has a capacity of over 80,000, but is best known as the “Frozen Tundra” as arguably the coldest stadium for football games.
The Pros of a Game in Lambeau Field
Lambeau Field is one of the most iconic stadiums in the United States, and arguably the most famous football stadium. The stadium hosts the Packers and was the site of one of the greatest games in NFL history, the Ice Bowl. Located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Lambeau Field is in one of the most popular hockey states where star NHL players like Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter.
The location would be great for a game between the nearby Wild or the Chicago Blackhawks, but could also host the Detroit Red Wings or even the Winnipeg Jets with an easy commute for the players and fans alike to watch the game on the frozen turf.
The Cons of a Game in Lambeau Field
Lambeau Field wasn’t given the nickname the “Frozen Tundra” by accident. It gets downright frigid in Green Bay, especially in January and February. The recent game at Target Field was the coldest Winter Classic ever, played in sub-zero temperatures, and there were plenty of concerns about the playing conditions. Hockey is meant to be played in cold weather, but Lambeau Field could cause issues with the ice and the equipment.
In addition, like many NFL stadiums, Lambeau Field is reserved for the Packers. Building the rink for the Winter Classic takes a few weeks, and would require the Packers to play multiple road games for the NHL to complete the setup for a Jan. 1 game. For this reason, it’s more likely Lambeau Field would host a Stadium Series game later on in the season, allowing the NHL time to build the rink without interfering with the Packers but in the end, Green Bay is one of the locations that will be strongly considered.
Beaver Stadium is the host of the Penn State Nittany Lions, and is one of the largest stadiums in North America and the world, boasting a capacity of over 110,000. Named after James Beaver, the former governor of Pennsylvania, the stadium opened in 1960 with a capacity of 40,000 but has expanded multiple times to become the large venue it is today. Beaver Stadium is known for hosting the Nittany Lions but many sports fans associate the stadium with its famous “white-out” games where the student of the program wear white for a night game against a rival school, creating one of the best atmospheres in sports.
The Pros of a Game in Beaver Stadium
Michigan Stadium, also known as “The Big House”, hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 in a game between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs that broke the record for the largest attendance in NHL history for a single game. A game in Beaver Stadium would not only be in a similar, iconic venue but could potentially break the record with a larger capacity. It’s unlikely that the game would be a “white-out” but the atmosphere would be great for a hockey game, located in a college town with plenty of hockey history nearby as well.
Located in the heart of Pennsylvania, Beaver Stadium would likely host a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, the two teams located within the state. However, the Buffalo Sabres could also likely play in the game with the team being nearby and the team owner, Terry Pegula, being an alumnus of Penn State. Fans across the state would travel for the game and with the stadium being on the list of venues the NHL has previously considered, it’s only a matter of time before a Winter Classic is held in Beaver Stadium.
The Cons of a Game in Beaver Stadium
The majority of the issues with a game at Beaver Stadium are connected to the college. For starters, Penn State would need to be on board with the game, and while they would likely want the Winter Classic on their campus and at their stadium, it’s possible that the university would prefer to decline the game. Likewise, located in a college town, Beaver Stadium is closely located to any NHL fanbase per se with the closest team being the Penguins, who are a two-hour drive away. The stadium has hosted plenty of memorable college football games but the NHL would consider the risks of hosting a game in a college town that doesn’t have a professional team in the area.
PNC Park is the home of the MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates, and opened in 2001. The ballpark succeeded Three Rivers Stadium, and is one of the most popular retro-classic style baseball parks in the MLB. While PNC Park is one of the smaller ballparks, with a capacity under 40,000 the venue is well-located and allows fans to have an unobstructed view of the game regardless of where they sit.
The Pros of a Game in PNC Park
PNC Park is regarded as one of the best ballparks in the MLB, and would make for a great site for a hockey game. The backdrop gives fans a view of the Allegheny River and downtown Pittsburgh while also allowing those in attendance to have a clear sight of the game, something that is difficult for Winter Classic venues to achieve. In addition, the ballpark is located within walking distance from the city and the home rink of the Penguins, PPG Paints Arena, allowing the team to easily host the game. With the NHL already playing the Winter Classic in multiple iconic ballparks including Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium, Dodgers Stadium, and Yankee Stadium, the next location could easily be PNC Park.
The Cons of a Game in PNC Park
The city of Pittsburgh already hosted the 2011 Winter Classic in Heinz Field, home of the NFL’s Steelers. While the game was a success, albeit, in rainy conditions with the Washington Capitals defeating the Penguins 3-1, and the city is more than qualified to host another game, the NHL might look elsewhere before returning to Pittsburgh. Additionally, PNC Park is one of the smaller ballparks in the MLB, making it one of the less appealing venues for the NHL for a Winter Classic game with the hopes of having 50,000 or more in attendance for the game. PNC Park is a favorite for baseball fans but the NHL might look for other stadiums across North America before returning to the three rivers.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is one of the oldest stadiums in the United States but also one of the largest. Opened in 1923, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has a capacity of over 90,000 and currently is the home stadium for the USC Trojans but has previously hosted the NFL’s Rams, Chargers, and Raiders as well as the UCLA Bruins. In addition, the coliseum has hosted multiple Olympic Games, the 1959 World Series, and the Super Bowl twice in 1967 and 1973, making it one of the most historic venues in sports.
The Pros of a Game in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Aside from being one of the greatest and most historic stadiums in the United States, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is an ideal location for a Winter Classic game. The stadium has a capacity of over 90,000 and is located in Los Angeles County, one of the largest sports markets that host the Kings. Moreover, the Anaheim Ducks are nearby in Orange County, providing two teams for the NHL for a Winter Classic.
In addition, New Year’s Day is always busy in Southern California, with the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl game, both of which take place in Pasadena, making the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a unique location for the Winter Classic. There isn’t anything scheduled for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on the day as the college football season has already concluded and a hockey game to cap off the night would only add to the sports and event-filled day.
The Cons of a Game in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Los Angeles is a tough place to host an outdoor game, largely because of the weather. Even in the winter, Los Angeles is a warm climate, and the conditions could create difficulty and multiple issues for building and maintaining an NHL ice rink. While Dodgers Stadium hosted a Stadium Series game in 2014, the game had to be played at night to avoid the Southern California sunlight and melting ice, an issue the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights experienced in the 2021 game in Lake Tahoe that suspended the game for over 10 hours. The NHL will strongly consider the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for future outdoor games but will have to account for the elements which will be the primary obstacle in a successful game.
Located in Seattle, Husky Stadium is the home of the Washington Huskies college football program. The stadium opened up in 1920, making Husky Stadium one of the older venues in North America but has since been renovated multiple times and now has a capacity of over 70,000 and is the largest sports venue in the Pacific Northwest.
The Pros of a Game in Husky Stadium
Husky Stadium is one of the most iconic football stadiums with plenty of history, hosting former President Warren G. Harding’s final public address, but is also ideal for hosting a hockey game. Aside from the capacity, Husky Stadium is surrounded by breathtaking natural sites, including the open end of the stadium overlooking Lake Washington and being nestled between the Cascade Mountains. Located in Seattle, the stadium is well-located for the Kraken to host a Winter Classic with an easy commute for the fanbase.
The Cons of a Game in Husky Stadium
Like Beaver Stadium and many college venues, Husky Stadium would need the approval of the university. While the University of Washington would likely approve of the idea, there is reason to believe they could oppose the NHL building the rink on their field. In addition, Husky Stadium isn’t the first football stadium that comes to mind for many sports fans and the NHL might want to look at the more well-known stadiums, like Beaver Stadium or possibly Ohio Stadium before planning a game in the Pacific Northwest. The NHL also would potentially have to battle the elements if a game was played in Seattle and while previous outdoor games were played in snow or rain but extreme rain or snow would make a hockey game impossible to execute.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the most popular and famous racetracks in the United States. Opening in 1961, the racetrack hosts NASCAR races and has a capacity of 153,000, making it one of the largest sports venues in the world. Located in Bristol, Tennessee, Bristol Motor Speedway is also one of the northernmost located racetracks in NASCAR with many of the speedways in Florida, Alabama, or and Texas, making it more likely to host an NHL game.
The Pros of a Game in Bristol Motor Speedway
A speedway might not come to mind when thinking of outdoor venues for an NHL game. However, Bristol Motor Speedway hosted the Tennessee Volunteers and the Virginia Tech Hokies in 2016, making it the largest attended game in college football history. Bristol Motor Speedway would easily shatter the record for the largest attended game and would also add another dimension to outdoor hockey games with a game on a racetrack. Bristol, in particular, is located between the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes, making the two teams an ideal matchup for a Winter Classic game.
The NHL has already played at football stadiums, baseball parks, and even in the mountain ski resort by Lake Tahoe. It might not sound reasonable for a hockey game to take place on a racetrack but Bristol Motor Speedway would be a great site and likely be one of the largest attended games in NHL history as well as an intriguing destination for a game for both hockey fans and sports fans alike.
The Cons of a Game in Bristol Motor Speedway
There are a lot of issues that would come with trying to play a game on a racetrack, largely because of the size of the venue. Most Winter Classic games have to juggle the issues with the camera and fans being farther away from the action but Bristol Motor Speedway would take the issues to another extreme. The rink would be constructed easily within the grass area in the middle of the track but the walk on to the rink would be longer than a typical walk to the rink from most Winter Classic sites.
The set up at Bristol Motor Speedway for audiences works for NASCAR races but the cameras at an NHL game would be too far away and the audience at home would struggle to see the game well. Furthermore, those in attendance would even be further from the game and would have trouble following the action on the ice. It would be a high-risk decision for the NHL to have a game at Bristol Motor Speedway and the move could ultimately backfire.
What About Non-Stadium Sites?
There are plenty of famous outdoor rinks or ODR’s that the NHL could consider for a unique game. Similar to the MLB playing a game at the Field of Dreams field in Iowa, where the league constructed the stadium and the bleachers for a regular season game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox, the NHL creating a venue at Mirror Lake in Lake Placid or Abraham Lake in Alberta would be a great idea for the fans in the area and the experience altogether. The two games at Lake Tahoe proved that the NHL can truly play a game in any location as long as they can build the ice rink, leaving hockey fans intrigued about where the league can possibly play next.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.