The National Hockey League’s Winter Classic has been their annual spectacle since 2008 when the Buffalo Sabres did battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins in a snowy Ralph Wilson Stadium.
It was everything the League had hoped for; an exciting, tense game with over 71,000 fans rocking the home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and won by Sidney Crosby’s Penguins 2-1 in a shootout.
Since then, rivalries of past and present have taken center stage on New Years Day. Detroit-Chicago (2009), Washington-Pittsburgh (2011), and Toronto-Detroit (2014) have been some of the intriguing match-ups that have graced the eyes of over four million fans on January 1.
However, last season was a dud. The Blackhawks and Capitals generated a meagre 3.5 million viewers with a 2.2 overnight rating, which is the lowest in the seven years the league has hosted the Winter Classic. The lack of a genuine rivalry between the two franchises was thought to be the main culprit for NBC’s poor numbers.
The 2016 Winter Classic plans to be a much different animal.
Of course the Bruins season is highlighted with the 2016 NHL Winter Classic vs. Montreal Canadiens on New Year’s Day at Gillette Stadium.
— Joe McDonald (@JoeyMacHockey) June 25, 2015
The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will take their 91-year rivalry outdoors on New Years Day at Gillette Stadium. Two of hockey’s Original Six are set to engage in a memorable battle at the home of the reigning four-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
All of the pieces are in place to ensure this Winter Classic may be exactly what the NHL needs to redeem itself.
Boston and Montreal have plenty of big names between them for the NHL to market.
For the Bruins, three-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron is steadily becoming a household name in NHL circles as one of the best two-way forwards in the game. Brad Marchand is an agitator at heart but has morphed into one of Boston’s more reliable offensive forwards after leading the club with 24 goals last season.
In goal, Tuukka Rask is as good as it gets in the league. The 2014 Vezina Trophy winner is one of the NHL’s elite between the pipes, except when it comes to facing the Canadiens. In the regular season, he’s recorded just three wins in 20 career appearances and is winless against the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge on home ice (0-7-3).
The Canadiens have two highly publicized superstars to market the game. Defenseman PK Subban is one of the game’s brightest stars on the blue line and is not a well-liked figure around most of New England. Love him or hate him, Subban will receive most of the promotional attention for his personality and style of play.
Carey Price proved last season he is, with little question, the best goalie in the NHL. The 27-year-old dominated the NHL Awards in June taking home the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender.
Rask v. Price in the great outdoors is a mouth-watering matchup for any NHL fan.
History and Hatred
As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. For the NHL, Boston and Montreal embodies that old adage.
The Bruins and Canadiens simply hate each other. In recent memory, there have been several flashpoints between the two franchises that have escalated the rivalry to new heights.
The epic seven-game playoff series in 2008, Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty in 2011, Boston defeating Montreal in Game 7 in the playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup and Milan Lucic’s infamous “I’m going to ******* kill you” to Dale Wiese at the end of their 2014 playoff series are some of the most famous ones that come to mind.
The 910th all-time meeting between the two franchises will be on January 1. You can bank on an homage to the path that has led them down the road to one of the best rivalries in all of sports. The Hall of Famers, the personalities, the playoff battles; all the things that have molded a matchup that spans over four generations of hockey. It is important to pay respects to those before us that made Boston and Montreal the marquee rivalry it is today.
The fans can’t stand each other. The teams aren’t particularly fond of one another. It is the perfect equation for an all-out war on the ice and eyes glued to big screens across the United States and Canada.
This is an underrated part of the entire experience that will make this Winter Classic one of (if not the) best yet.
Gillette Stadium has the capacity to pack in close to 70,000 rabid fans. Speaking from experience, I’ve seen games at the TD Garden where almost a third of the building is occupied by Canadiens jerseys, which always makes for an electric atmosphere. Ask any Bruins fan and they will tell you the same thing: it’s an irritating trend to see Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge in their house.
It is not out of the question to see a good chunk of Montreal fans make the five-hour journey in support of their franchise. However, they will surely be outnumbered by the Black and Gold that will flood Foxboro on New Years Day. Bruins and Canadiens share a burning passion for their hockey teams and are unwavering in their support.
They’ll take their respective chants and cheers outdoors in the cauldron of noise that is “the Razor”.
As Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said:
“Montreal-Boston is always fun, it’s always special and they can’t go wrong in bringing those two teams together here.”
It was a slam dunk for the NHL to feature Boston and Montreal in their showcase a year after poor ratings were the post game headline. It has everything to appease both the casual and diehard fan: star power, hatred, history and passion.
It has the makings to be the best Winter Classic the NHL has ever seen. That’s exactly what they need.