Before fancy ice arenas were built in every city in North America, the great game of hockey was played on frozen lakes and ponds across the continent and in recent years, the NHL has begun incorporate those traditions into the regular season with its Stadium Series games.
Dating back to 1954, the Detroit Red Wings were the first NHL team to try an outdoor game against a team of inmates from the Marquette prison system. Since then, there have been a few attempts at holding an outdoor game, but not until 2003 was the tradition introduced into the NHL’s regular season schedule.
The game took place at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium featuring the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens. Then, in 2005, the idea was officially proposed and accepted by NHL authorities with the introduction of the Winter Classic.
Its inaugural game featured the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres on January 1, 2008. Finally, on May 1, 2013, the concept of the Stadium Series was born.
The Chicago Blackhawks faced the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears. The game was so well received by fans that by the end of May 2013, the NHL planned six more outdoor games for the 2013-14 season.
The tradition of the Stadium Series continues this weekend with conference rivals the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild facing off at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, February 21st. The Blackhawks and the Wild developed an intense rivalry in the past few years as the Blackhawks have systematically eliminated the Wild from the Stanley Cup playoffs for the last three years in a row.
Originally, the NHL intended for the Wild to play the Dallas Stars in the Stadium Series game, but the Wild requested the Blackhawks because of their polarizing relationship. Hosting an outdoor game has been a dream of Wild owner, Craig Leipold, since purchasing the team in 2008. NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, joked about how relentless Leipold was in his pursuit of obtaining a Stadium Series game. Minnesota is nicknamed “The State of Hockey” due to its passion toward high school, collegiate and professional hockey, so it seems fitting that the Wild should host a traditional outdoor hockey game.
More professional hockey players call Minnesota home than any other state, including current Minnesota Wild players Zach Parise and Mike Reilly. Reilly also attended the University of Minnesota as did fellow players Thomas Vanek and Erik Haula who will return to campus for the Stadium Series at TCF Bank Stadium.
This year, on the day before the official Stadium Series game, there will be an alumni game featuring former Blackhawk and Minnesota North Star players including legends such as Lou Nanne and Jeremy Roenick. An exciting match-up of former greats to precede the game of current stars.
Both Chicago and Minnesota designed special Stadium Series jerseys in honor of the game. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Gophers and (temporarily) the Minnesota Vikings, has undergone a complete transformation in preparation for outdoor hockey, equipped with a full-size ice rink featuring the 2016 Stadium Series logo.
The weekend of February 19th has been dubbed “Stadium Series Weekend” as activities in anticipation of the game have been occurring all weekend including a family skate day for Minnesota Wild players and their loved ones.
A performance by rock band, Cheap Trick, will precede the game on Sunday, as well. A salute to the State of Hockey will dominate the second intermission honoring present and former Minnesota Wild, Golden Gopher and Minnesota North Star players.
The Stadium Series game will hopefully be a long-lasting tradition in the NHL, a return to the origins of hockey and a salute to its roots. The game in Minnesota will surely be a historic event for the world of Hockey.
Other Stadium Series games this year include a match-up between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche in Colorado, and of course the Winter Classic which occurred earlier this year between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium on New Year’s Day.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Minnesota Wild