Workers prepare the Winter Classic hockey rink on the football field of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Monday, Dec. 28, 2015. The Montreal Canadiens face the Boston Bruins in the New Year's Day hockey game. Gillette Stadium is the home of the New
Charles Krupa
December 30, 2015

As each New Year's Day approaches, Larry Quinn chuckles at the memory of how the Buffalo Sabres landed the NHL's first Winter Classic.

''We got it in Buffalo because no one was willing to take the risk,'' the Sabres former managing partner said. ''There was a lot of trepidation. Could we sell out? What would the weather be like? Could we actually build the ice?''

Check. Check. And check.

What began on Jan. 1, 2008, as a snow-globe spectacle at a jam-packed Ralph Wilson Stadium - and capped by Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winner in Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory - has turned into a broadcast bonanza for the NHL and its TV partner NBC.

Some eight years later, now everyone seems to wants one as the Bruins prepare to host Montreal in an Original Six matchup at Foxborough on Friday.

The question is how can the league build on the momentum already created?

Having played at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, there's a limit to the number of high-profile sites to host games.

Quaint as it is to play hockey in baseball parks, football stadiums are considered better suited because of how the seats face the field.

''The noise in football stadiums, I think, is a little bit louder than the noise in baseball stadiums,'' said broadcaster Pierre McGuire, who described the din at Michigan Stadium for the 2014 Winter Classic to be the loudest he's experienced.

But there are only so many Big Houses.

The Maple Leafs are lobbying to host the 2017 Winter Classic to celebrate 100 years of pro hockey in Toronto.

There are obstacles, however. NBC prefers having the Jan. 1 game played on U.S. soil to draw a larger audience. And Toronto lacks a proper outdoor venue to hold such an event.

The downtown Rogers Centre would be an option, but the stadium's retractable roof is closed in the winter and the facility lacks proper drainage. Another possibility is BMO Field, but the soccer stadium has a seating capacity of about 34,000 significantly upping the price of what would already be an expensive ticket.

Another question is when are too many outdoor games, too many? The NHL held six in 2014, including two at Yankee Stadium, before scaling back to two last year, and three in 2016.

''Six in five locations is about the limit,'' NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this year. ''But there's no limit to the appetite for these from the cities, from our clubs, from our fans. They can't get enough of these.''

Bettman acknowledged that between two and four a year is likely best.

Sabres captain Brian Gionta has participated in one outdoor game - the 2011 Heritage Classic at Calgary. And that's enough for him.

''It was awesome to be a part of,'' Gionta said. ''To make a habit out of it, doing one every year as a player, I think it would get old.''

OUTDOOR MEMORIES

As a 17-year-old in Massachusetts, Minnesota Wild center Charlie Coyle recalls attending the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway, where Marco Sturm scored in overtime in Boston's 2-1 win over Philadelphia.

''They scored right down at the end where we were sitting, on the Green Monster,'' said Coyle, who will have a chance to play in an outdoor game on Feb. 21, when Minnesota hosts Chicago at TCF Bank Stadium. ''It was sweet.''

The NHL's other outdoor game this season has Colorado hosting Detroit at Coors Field on Feb. 27.

STREAKING

The Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals have won eight straight to match their best run since April 2013, and are 15-1-1 in their past 17. Alex Ovechkin had a goal in a 2-0 win at Buffalo on Monday, to up his total to 493 - most for Russian-born players. Goalie Braden Holtby has earned the Capitals points in 16 consecutive decisions.

SLUMPING

The Canadiens were 1-10 and had lost six straight before a 4-3 shootout win at Tampa Bay on Monday. Though goalie Carey Price has been sidelined by a lower body injury, scoring has been an issue. The Habs have managed just 25 goals in 14 games since a Price was hurt in 5-1 win at the New York Rangers on Nov. 25.

LEADERS (through Monday's games)

Points, Patrick Kane (Chicago), 50; Goals, Jamie Benn (Dallas), 23; Assists, Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), 31; Power-play goals, Justin Faulk (Carolina), 12; Shutouts, Corey Crawford (Chicago) and Jake Allen (St. Louis), 5.

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Winter Classic, of course, set for 1 p.m. on Friday.

---

AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Pat Graham in Denver, and freelance writer Denis Gorman contributed to this report.

You May Like