When the snow began to fall for the Winter Classic in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2008, it seemed like a sign that the holiday game would become an instant classic.
Ten years later, the event remains one of the highlights of the NHL calendar each season. This year, the Buffalo Sabres will play the New York Rangers at Citi Field, the home of MLB's Mets, at 1 p.m. ET (NBC).
Here are reasons why the game still has strong appeal as an annual event:
It might snow: Snow fell heavily at the first Winter Classic in Buffalo, and since then the possibility of snowy conditions keeps us coming back.
Though snow is not in the forecast Monday, inclement weathers adds an X-factor to the competition that fans enjoy. We like NFL games played on frozen fields, Open Championships played with wind and rain and outdoor hockey played with enough snow to create more adversity for the athletes to overcome.
Plus, snow gives the stadium a “snow globe effect."
Romantic atmosphere: Nearly every Canadian, and most NHLers from other countries, have fond childhood memories of skating, or playing hockey, on a frozen pond or lake.
Outdoor hockey reminds people of the innocence of youth and the romance of the game. Players love this event because they can share it with friends and family. The family skate the day before the game is a major draw for players.
Memorable locations: The game has been played at Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Michigan Stadium, Busch Stadium and Heinz Field, among others. Next year’s game is scheduled for Notre Dame Stadium.
Sooner or later, we need the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers at Penn State. Wouldn’t you like to see a neutral site game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay? How about the Rangers at West Point? Florida Panthers owner Vinny Viola and Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley are both West Point graduates.
Captive audience: People are conditioned to watch televised sports on New Year’s Day, and the Winter Classic offers viewers a break from bowl game fatigue.
The Winter Classic is a welcome diversion from college football overload. The NHL has carved a place for itself on New Year’s Day, a brilliant strategy for the league.
History matters: The game has now been around long enough that what happens at the Winter Classic isn’t lost over time. It’s not an All-Star exhibition. It’s a game that counts in the standings. And it’s not just another regular-season game.
Fans remember that Sidney Crosby scored a shootout goal to win the first game at Ralph Wilson Stadium and that Marco Sturm scored in overtime to give the Boston Bruins a win at Fenway.
Even though it was technically the Centennial Classic, do you think we will forget that in Auston Matthews' rookie season he scored an overtime tally to beat the Detroit Red Wings on New Year's Day in Toronto's BMO Field?
You have to be there: Some members of the media say the Winter Classic has run its course. The novelty has worn off, they insist. Maybe some TV viewers aren’t as excited as they used to be about the game.
But the Winter Classic has not lost its appeal as an in-person event. The Winter Classic still connects with fans. It has a festival-like atmosphere. You can feel the excitement as you walk up to the stadium.
Players all have the same reaction: you look at all of the fans in the stands, and you feel in awe.