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I don't think it's too early, or too much hyperbole, to call the Winter Classic a rousing success. It is the talk of the sports world today, a day usually reserved for talk about college football. Here's an example, my sister (henceforth known as the Jibblesis) who is a fairly avid Avalanche fan, but really could care less about any other sport called me on New Years and mentioned she had TiVo'd the Winter Classic. While the play was choppy and the stoppages were excruciating the event was great. Just seeing 71k+ in an American stadium was enough for even those people who think the "hoc-key?" joke was ever is still funny to think "Wait, people really DO like this sport".

And as much as hockey fans are tired of the overexposure of Sidney Crosby, the fact remains that he isn't overexposed to most of the American fans so having him in a game (and create the first goal right off the bat) was really a no-brainer. The obvious question is how can the NHL parlay this into a showcase event every season? Like real estate the answer is Location, Location, Location. This game benefited, more than anything, from Buffalo's passion for hockey. It showed a real American City, they even get to vote for president, packed to the brim for a game most thought to be irrelevant in the United States. The key to the next game will be to show that passion and fun in the next city. Here's a list of possible locations the NHL should look at for the next game (hopefully next New Years):
  • Yankee Stadium- Rangers vs Devils/Isles/Bruins/Pens. The Knicks are down, and Yankee Stadium is probably the most famous stadium in the US. It's also being torn down for the new Yankee Stadium. The Rangers have star power (Jagr), American Star Power (Gomez, Drury, Shannahan), and probably the best young goalie in the league (Lundqvist), brand recognition and let's face it: if the Rangers receive local buzz the national media will cover it even more than normal. Oh the Rangers are a pretty good team too. The downside? It only seats 57k+.
  • Happy Valley - Flyers vs. Pens. An in-state rivalry, one that's already been talked about. The Flyers are also one of the strongest brands in the NHL, and of course it would feature Crosby again. It would be held in a classic 100k+ college stadium that features 2 of the best fan bases in the league (Philly, Pitt). The Downside? Is central Pennsylvania a place that would attract the biggest media contingent/buzz?
  • The Big House - Red Wings vs Avs/Leafs/Blackhawks. Why not give the Western Conference some love? The Red Wings are probably the most popular, and hated, US-based team. They are rich in tradition and have a loyal following, and a hockey mad culture. Many people still see Wings-Avs as a rivalry, but I think a Leafs-Red Wings tilt would be a pretty great draw. Downside? Well the Wings attendance has suffered the last 2 years.
  • Gopher Stadium - Wild vs Avs/Stars/Red Wings/Blackhawks. What better place to play an outdoor game than the State of Hockey? Minnesota fans deserve a game here. Downside? Unfortunately for Minnesotans, they have no real strong rivals ( kinda sort of the Avs or Canucks) and their coach relies on a style of hockey that bores even the most avid hockey fans. I just can't see NBC or the NHL putting the Neutral Zone Trap in a showcase game.
  • Soldier Field- Blackhawks vs Red Wings - Yes a little unconventional, but this could be the event that brings hockey back in Chicago, a city the NHL desperately needs back in the mix. Now that the son of Wirtz is putting games back on TV there, Blackhawks fans are starting to return and this could be the event that gets them completely back. Downside? If the fans don't come out, it would be an unmitigated disaster. Probably a touch too risky at this stage
So those are my picks for the next one. Why isn't there any Canadian Cities on the list? Because the NHL needs to gain more traction in the states. Yes a game in Montréal or Toronto would be magnificent but if the NHL is trying to break into New Years Day, they need American teams, and American locations. If the goal of the outdoor game is to create a buzz in America (and that IS the goal) It does little good to show Canadians packing the house for an outdoor game. In fact it just reinforces the "It's a Canadian game, Americans would never fill a stadium for NHL hockey" myth.