(Photo: Chicago Blackhawks)
New Year’s Day 2019 will open with something familiar to NHL fans—an Original Six matchup facing off in the Winter Classic.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins will “Play Like A Champion Today” to ring in 2019 at the iconic Notre Dame Stadium, home of golden helmets, Touchdown Jesus, Fighting Irish, and the setting for the beloved and oft-referenced film Rudy.
“Well, I’ve seen the move ‘Rudy,’” joked Bruins’ center Patrice Bergeron. “I don’t know all that much about it, but I know there’s a lot of history behind that school and that program. It’s going to be special, for sure, and I’m looking forward to take it all in once we’re there.”
The Notre Dame choice could appeal for a number of reasons from its history and aesthetics to its South Bend, Ind. haven of lake-effect cold and snow.
“Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press release.
This will be the Blackhawks’ fourth Winter Classic and sixth outdoor game (two Stadium series) and the Bruins’ third, but its first as a visitor. The recycling of Original Six teams for outdoor games has quite a few fans in a tizzy. Here’s some of the rare not-too-foul-to-print commentary:
Blackhawks in ANOTHER winter classic. Might as well start calling it the Blackhawks Classic…@NHL
— Justin Schultz’s Ego (@JustinSchutzEgo) November 18, 2017
Another Chicago Blackhawks Winter Classic. Cool. Such a joke. The funny thing is, both these teams will be horrible in 2019. Jokes on you NHL.
— Bolts Jolts (@BoltsJolts) November 18, 2017
Might as well change the name from the winter classic to the Blackhawks classic
— jacob (@jacob_tracy) November 18, 2017
Because they know they will at least get decent ratings with Blackhawks and they aren’t willing to try anything else. I think a Penguins/Preds Winter Classic or Stadium Series would do great. Cup final ratings show that.
— Graves (@WBGravey) November 22, 2017
— Utica Green Man (@UticaGreenMan) November 20, 2017
If it’s any consolation to the angry NHL fans, Chicago has won just one of the six games—a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Chicago’s 2009 game versus the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field ended with a 6-4 loss, though it certainly grew the team.
(photos: Carly Mullady)
Captain Jonathan Toews told team historian Bob Verdi:
“We lost. But it was the rebirth of the Blackhawks.”
They won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years the following season and have taken two more championships since.
Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman said:
“I think it will be spectacular, right up there with Wrigley Field. Before the first Winter Classic in Buffalo, a lot of people wondered. New Year’s Day pretty much belonged to college football and bowl games. Would an outdoor hockey game work? Well, it worked. It certainly worked at Wrigley Field.
“It was a big, big deal, to host one of those. We were just beginning to see some hope then as a team. The star of the show was Wrigley Field. You asked yourself, ‘What could be unique after that?’ Soldier Field was huge, and Notre Dame, all the tradition on that campus. I loved my time there. Playing a hockey game there will be tremendous. All the outdoor experiences are nice, but hosting one as we will for the third time is really special.”
(Photo: Carly Mullady)
Bruins President Cam Neely told media he’s looking forward to the experience:
“The Boston Bruins are excited to be playing in the 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic against another storied Original Six franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks. The rich history of Notre Dame Stadium is well documented, and our team looks forward to playing at such an iconic venue. We hope that by participating in these large scale and unique NHL events we can bring Bruins fans new hockey experiences, and that we can use these opportunities to help grow our great game and attract new fans.”
And, while some fans may feel neglected, this matchup and venue makes sense. Both Chicago and Boston have healthy Irish-American populations. Chicago had a reign of Irish leaders for 43 of the last 57 years; and, while the city proper Irish-American numbers have dropped from 16 percent to about 8 percent since 1990, many suburbs hit up to the mid-20s of Irish-identifying population, according to census results. Chicago dyes its river green and both cities host large parades for St. Patrick’s Day each year. Boston-Irish numbers hit around 20 percent.
Both teams also have connections. Bowman is a Notre Dame alum and the team has training camp at the university each year.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) November 18, 2017
Blackhawks winger Vinnie Hinostroza (currently at AHL Icehogs) played two years at Notre Dame.
Jack Swarbick, Notre Dame University Vice President, is excited:
“I think it’s only fitting that two of the NHL’s legendary ‘Original Six’ teams will take the ice for the first hockey game in one of America’s most iconic athletic facilities. Hosting two franchises with so many connections to Notre Dame also provides a unique opportunity to celebrate our hockey legacy.”
Tickets are expected to be released for sale to team season ticketholders before the general public, but so far no dates have been released.