(Photo: thescore.com)

We’ve known for a while that the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic would be a Capital affair.

Well, the latest buzz informally announced the Chicago Blackhawks as Washington’s opponents for the annual New Year’s Day outdoor event.

 

It comes as a surprise even to me, an obsessive Blackhawks fan and follower. These two teams aren’t exactly rivals.

Both teams do, however, have a strong following. They also have some of the league’s top stars. Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin, and Patrick Kane were ranked third, fourth, and fifth in NHL jersey sales for 2013.

The Blackhawks have also lifted two Stanley Cups since 2010 and were one goal away from winning the Western Conference Division this year, losing to the eventual 2014 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

They finished this season with 277 consecutive sellouts at the “Madhouse on Madison” United Center, with an average of 22,623 fans each home game.

While the Caps didn’t make the playoffs this year, they have a loyal fanbase and went to the quarterfinals and semifinals twice each before being eliminated the prior four seasons.

They have steady TV numbers and they have some of the highest ticket prices in the league–costing more, on average, to see a “premium” game than anywhere outside of New York.

This in mind, the NHL can maximize profits with attendance, viewership, and, in particular, merchandising. The Winter Classic includes the release of a unique new (typically throwback) sweater and other memorabilia.

HBO also features a special 24/7 behind-the-scenes program of the event including live-mic’d players, which should be particularly interesting with the likes of Kane and Corey Crawford. We get to see how colorful things get uncensored.

While the actual site of the event is yet to be announced, contenders include:

  • Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. RFK formerly hosted Redskins football, has historic value, and seats more than 45,000.
  • FedEx Field, in Maryland, which could host 92,000 fans. However, the Redskins host the Cowboys Dec. 28., making setup very difficult.
  • M&T Bank Stadium, which hosts the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately they, too, have a game Dec. 28, when they host the Cleveland Browns.
  • Camden Yards, a baseball field, where the Baltimore Orioles play. The Blackhawks’ last Winter Classic was at Wrigley Field in 2009.
  • The most likely candidate, and the location suggested by ESPN, is another baseball field–Nationals Park. It’s relatively new, located in D.C., and has a nearly 42,000 capacity for baseball.

The Blackhawks and Capitals met twice last season, finishing 1-1, with the home-ice team the victor.

So, last season had a million–OK, six–outdoor games (Winter Classic, Heritage Classic, Stadium Series) to make up for the previous season’s lockout.

The Blackhawks won their Stadium Series game against the Penguins at Soldier Field. Tickets to that event sold out in less than 24 hours.

In 2009, however, the Blackhawks lost to the Redwings at Wrigley.

handshake classic

In fact, “home” teams have lost all but one Winter Classic since they began in 2008, when the Boston Bruins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park in 2010.

The only teams to participate in the annual Winter Classic so far are the Blackhawks, Redwings, Bruins, Penguins, Flyers, Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Heritage Classic and Stadium Series brought more team diversity to the mix, but with fewer outdoor games in the schedule now, the NHL will likely stick to higher-profit markets and Original Six teams as they’ve done so far.

More information will likely be released when the full NHL schedule comes out. These tidbits along the way will hopefully help fans survive the offseason.

Forget Auld Lang Syne. Sing the Star-Spangled Banner and drop the puck.

Carly Mullady grew up needing to know more about icing than its deliciousness on cupcakes. She's the lone daughter of four children, with a father who was among the last cut from the Midwest tryouts for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic team. And she knows very little matches the thrill that happens from puck-drop to handshakes. A rink didn’t return to her hometown until she was gone, but she’s been able to see two younger brothers on the ice. She's their feistiest fan. Her other hockey loyalty lies with the Blackhawks--whether it's meant seeing games for $8 with student IDs when the Madhouse didn’t have much of a temper at all, or dancing to Chelsea Dagger at standing room only--there’s something magical about a roaring anthem, the Indianhead sweater, and the Original Six. A former journalist and current editor, she carries a penchant for excitement (and maybe even fighting) with a resume that includes working for Chicago-area newspapers, and television, including The Jerry Springer Show, as well as NBCUniversal in New York. After East Coast living and a return to the Chicago area, the new Mrs. is giving Graceland a go with her Southern Gent, who now shares her adoration of the game, and their rescue dog, Doc Holliday. Other interests include Cubs, Bears, Illini, Crimson Tide, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, baking a mean pineapple upside-down cake, Kate Spade accessories, and a properly coordinated cardigan for every ensemble.

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