The always-anticipated holiday season will soon come to an abrupt end when that last present is open, that last candle is lit or that lingering family member finally heads home.
But for hockey fans, the holiday season extends a bit past the New Year. For diehard fans, every game day is a holiday, especially when your team is headed outdoors.
The NHL announced four outdoor games to be played this season, the first of which came back in October when the Winnipeg Jets hosted the Edmonton Oilers for a modern-day rematch of the once-heavy rivalry that featured Wayne Gretzky and Dale Hawerchuk.
The 2016 Tim Horton’s Heritage ClassicThis season marked the fourth Heritage Classic, a Canadian-team only game. The previous three were held in 2003, 2011 and 2014. The success of the 2003 showdown is what initially led to the NHL introduction of the successful Winter Classic showdowns.
Final: Edmonton 3, Winnipeg 0
This particular Heritage Classic was hyped as 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid pitted against 2016’s second-overall pick, Patrik Laine. McDavid currently leads the NHL with 40 points and Laine leads all rookies with 29 points.
Laine’s 18 goals place him behind only Sidney Crosby (21) and David Pastrnak (19).
A three-goal second period and a 31-save Cam Talbot shutout spoiled the home team’s hosting of the event.
The 2017 NHL Centennial ClassicThe Centennial Classic was created to honor Toronto’s 100th NHL season, but is also set up as a 2014 Winter Classic rematch. In 2014, the Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout at Michigan Stadium.
Who: Toronto Maple Leafs v. Detroit Red Wings
When: 3:00 p.m. | Sunday, January 1, 2017
Where: BMO Field, Toronto, Ont.
Now, three years later, each team has made significant changes to their rosters. The Red Wings have added players including Dylan Larkin, Thomas Vanek and Mike Green while losing players including Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson—who scored the opening goal in the 2014 face-off.
The Maple Leafs have added players including Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Frederik Andersen while losing players including Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.
Perhaps the biggest change is what Toronto doesn’t put on the ice. The franchise has shifted to a full rebuild, all in the hands of Lou Lamoriello, Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock who was at the helm of Detroit for ten years, including its 2014 Winter Classic loss.
The 2017 NHL Winter ClassicA growing rivalry between two Central Division powers will go head-to-head in front of its largest-ever live crowd. Busch Stadium, which houses upwards of 43,000 seats, will give the 2016 Conference Finals runner-up the honor of becoming the eight city to host the Winter Classic.
Who: St. Louis Blues v. Chicago Blackhawks
When: 1:00 p.m. | Monday, January 2, 2017
Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Mo.
The success of past Winter Classic events has continued to push the NHL to market more outdoor games. This will be the ninth Winter Classic and St. Louis will become the twelfth team to have participated in the game.
St. Louis knocked the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks out of the playoffs last season in the first-round. St. Louis currently sits nine points behind the Central Division-leading Blackhawks, but also has a game in hand.
Both teams field dependable goaltending, strong defenses and four scoring lines, which always put on a show. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will look to crash the party that Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen will host.
The 2017 NHL Stadium SeriesOne of the best rivalries in hockey is taking things outside.
Who: Pittsburgh Penguins v. Philadelphia Flyers
When: 8:00 p.m. | Saturday, February 25, 2017
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
The aforementioned Crosby and his 2016 Stanley Cup Champion teammates have shaken off their Stanley Cup hangover and look just as unbeatable as they were to finish the 2015-16 season and could be poised for a repeat at the Cup.
Philadelphia’s resurgence of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek could bring problems for the divisional rival as they stormed up the standings with ten consecutive wins before losing their last two games.
Add in rookie blue-liner Ivan Provorov and the stunning breakout of Wayne Simmonds and Philadelphia is showing it’s a team on the rise.
But Pittsburgh has easily had the more dependable goaltending this season and Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have been scorching scoresheets every night.
There is no doubt both teams have this game circled on their calendar and when the Battle of Pennsylvania comes around, it always brings some old time hockey with it.