Buffalo - August 27, 2014 - The Winter Classic, the annual outdoor hockey game played on New Year’s Day, has become a blockbuster hit for the league. It fills up football stadiums and delivers monster ratings for the league on NBC.
What many people seem to forget is that the very first one took place in none other than Buffalo, NY. The Sabres took on the Penguins in front of 71,217 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in what may have been the best Winter Classic game to date. Not only was the game exciting – Sidney Crosby won it for the Penguins in a shootout with a nifty move to beat Ryan Miller – but the scene was absolutely perfect: snow falling just enough to really make the visual breath-taking without hindering the product on the ice, making it truly feel like a pond hockey game from the NHL’s distant past. It was also set the record for the largest attendance in NHL history (which has since been broken thanks to later incarnations of the Winter Classic).
Since then, the event has seen the NHL’s favorites routinely fill the slots in this game: the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and this year, the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals. But the question that’s hanging out there: when will the Winter Classic come back to where it began?
The team has tried and tried to get the game back to Western New York, but the NHL has opted for its traditionally larger markets and much larger stadiums (think “The Big House” in Michigan last year, which seats over 110,000) rather than returning to the confines of “the Ralph”.
You hear that, Terry Pegula?
If Pegula’s bid to buy the Buffalo Bills goes through, he’ll become the owner of all things Buffalo and will no doubt try to drive the construction of a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium to house the Bills and give the Sabres a reasonable shot at bringing back the Winter Classic.
After all, the NHL needs some fresh matchups. Everyone loves the “Original Six”, sure, but we can only see the Blackhawks so many times. The same goes for Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s golden boy, and his Pittsburgh Penguins. Think about how awesome it would be if the Sabres, with the snow falling lightly on New Year’s Day, took on their arch rivals from across the border, the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the rapid fan base just hours away, they could easily pack Ralph Wilson Stadium or any new, state-of-the-art venue the Bills can build.
It’s time, NHL. Bring the Winter Classic back to where it started and let the Sabres and Leafs go at it in the cold.
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