Michigan Stadium was packed with hockey fans for the annual NHL Winter Classic. Photo: USA Today Sports
The NHL once again attempted to cash in on a day traditionally reserved for college football, and they did so this year in one of college football's cathedrals of the game. Michigan Stadium was the site of this year's NHL Winter Classic, pitting the Detroit Red Wings against the Toronto Maple Leafs, so you might be forgiven if you were caught off guard by the amount of red seen milling around Michigan Stadium on January 1. This year's Winter Classic may have been one of the best the event has seen with perfect outdoor hockey weather between two Original Six teams and a game decided by a shootout in one of college football's and the North American sports world's true icons.
Not surprisingly, this year's Winter Classic smashed the attendance for an outdoor NHL game with 105,491 tickets sold. The Guinness World Record folks are still compiling all of the data to determine the official number, but it is expected this game will set the new world record for the largest crowd at an outdoor hockey game.
There are few college football stadiums that would make for a great atmosphere for an outdoor hockey game in the NHL Winter Classic, but do not be surprised if at some point the idea comes up again given the continued success for the NHL's marquee mid-season event. Yes, this is better than the NHL All-Star Game and skills competition and the league continues to shutdown for the Olympics, so the outdoor game is as good as it gets for the NHL until the postseason.
Personally, I am still holding out hope the NHL schedules an outdoor game in Penn State's Beaver Stadium between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. It is an idea that has been discussed for years in the Keystone State, but it will have to wait. The NHL will send the New Years game to Washington D.C. next season, and Nationals Park appears to be the most likely option given the time needed to prepare an NFL venue for the event. The game has twice been played in an NFL stadium, but that can easily become a massive headache if that city's NFL team makes a run for the playoffs. This is why baseball stadiums have hosted the game three times and why Michigan Stadium worked out so well.
Here are five college football stadiums worthy of hosing a future NHL Winter Classic, and the ideal teams to play in the game.
1. Beaver Stadium, Penn State – Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
This just makes too much sense. Penn State's campus is literally at the geographic center of the state of Pennsylvania and Penn State tends to be the melting point for this in-state rivalry. The Penguins and Flyers have each already played in two winter events and one may be likely to be used as Washington's opponent in 2015. Still, a game at Beaver Stadium would likely bring in a crowd on par with the one seen in Michigan Stadium, with 100,000 tickets being sold would easily b expected if available.
2. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State – Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Minnesota Wild
Along the same lines as Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium, a game in Ohio Stadium could make for a majestic scene for the winter classic. The game could also be used to showcase a pair of the league's younger franchises with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. TV would probably prefer getting in Detroit or Pittsburgh given the proximity, but why not showcase more of what the league has to offer? Fans will come for the event anyway, so why not take advantage of it?
3. Michie Stadium, Army – New York Rangers vs. Boston Bruins
Forget about setting a record attendance for this one, but Army's Michie Stadium has potential to show off some of the best scenery around while paying homage to our nation's finest. If you have never been to Michie Stadium you simply do not know what you are missing. While travel and arranging to set up a winter classic in the stadium might be cumbersome, the effort would be rewarded with some of the finest sights around.
4. LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU – Colorado Avalanche vs. Los Angeles Kings
Just as Army's Michie Stadium could be a logistical nightmare with a great scenic reward, BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium could be the west coast alternative. Sure, the game may not be a great draw with no truly local team to pull for in Utah, but if you are looking for a stadium with a view, it is can be difficult to top Provo.
5. Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin – Detroit Red Wings vs. Minnesota Wild
OK, if you are going to play an NHL game in Wisconsin the ideal venue would be Lambeau Field. But assuming the Packers are a perennial postseason contender, that is likely not an ideal option. Instead, shift the game down to Madison, a great hockey town, and give them two NHL franchises from nearby states about equidistant apart and see where the loyalties lay.
Be sure to check out more photos from the NHL Winter Classic in Michigan Stadium at Puck Drunk Love.