5 Facts You Probably Don’t Know About NHL Outdoor Games

January 1 will mark the 10th NHL Winter Classic. This year’s edition will take place at Citi Field in a tilt between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.

If you’re heading to the home of the Mets on New Year’s Day, here are some random facts to keep in your back pocket to bring up between whistles:

1. The first outdoor game involving an NHL team was an exhibition at a prison!

MARQUETTE, MI – FEBRUARY 2: Gordie Howe #9, Dutch Reibel #14 and Ted Lindsay #7 of the Detroit Red Wings line up for the faceoff during an outdoor game against the Marquette Prison Pirates on February 2, 1954 at the Marquette prison in Marquette, Michigan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Not even kidding. In 1954, the first outdoor game in the NHL was held in Michigan involving the Detroit Red Wings. Their opponents that day? The Marquette Prison Pirates. Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Terry Sawchuk and five other Hall of Famers all suited up and played in front of 600 prisoners at Marquette State Prison. There was even a “trophy” on the line.

So how did this even come about? The seeds were planted in a visit to the prison by Wings GM Jack Adams and captain Ted Lindsay a few months earlier. Prison Warden Emery Jacques suggested, on a whim, that next time they bring the entire team and play a game. Adams (probably jokingly) said sure, if you cover all the costs and build a rink. Jacques called his bluff, and on February 2 the next year, it actually happened.

If you’re curious, it definitely wasn’t a competitive game. The Wings went up 18-0 in the first period. Sawchuk switched sides and played for the prison team for the rest of the game. The third period ended up being a “throw your sticks in the middle to pick sides” kind of scrimmage.

After the game, Adams noted to the players, “This is a great day. The only trouble is, you guys sure have made it tough for me to recruit any of you.”

2. The second outdoor game included a 23 on 5 pile up for two periods against the Boston Bruins in Newfoundland

1955-56 Boston Bruins team photo (Courtesy HockeyGods.com)

You can guess it was another exhibition game, also under interesting circumstances. When the Bruins missed the playoffs in the 1955-1956 season, the team set off on a goodwill exhibition hockey tour into neighborhoods that may not typically see live NHL hockey. This was the norm for teams not battling for Lord Stanley’s Mug.

The B’s travels brought them to Newfoundland, where they played all around “The Rock”: St. John’s, Gander, Cornerbrook. The most iconic stop that year, however, was in Conception Bay. On top of being the first NHL team to visit that part of Newfoundland, the Bruins also became part of the first NHL outdoor game in Canada.

Since the teams knew the exhibition games were more for the entertainment of the crowd than the actual score, this outdoor tilt featured 23 local players on the ice at once facing five Bruins in the second and third periods (somehow it still didn’t go well for the Newfoundland natives).

Also, Sawchuk, who was in his first season with the Bruins, became the first player to play in the first two outdoor games involving NHL teams.

3. The Rangers were involved in the very first outdoor game involving two NHL teams

It took 35 years, but the NHL finally saw another outdoor game in 1991… of all places, in Las Vegas.

Yes, long before the Golden Knights joined the league and won over the hearts of Vegas hockey fans (let’s be honest, fans all over the league), the parking lot at Caesar’s Palace was the scene for an exhibition game between the Blueshirts and the Los Angeles Kings. The temperature at the start of the game was 85 degrees, sometimes vaulting to 95 throughout, which made for quite the interesting experience, especially for the crew preserving the ice surface (not to mention the grasshoppers and flies that eventually swarmed the ice, thinking it was water).

Al Trautwig hosted an edition of “MSG Vault” about this very game, including how the ice was made and game highlights:

It’s hard to believe but the first-ever outdoor game between two NHL clubs was actually held on the Las Vegas strip! Take a peek at what went down when the Rangers took on the LA Kings in an exhibition game in front of Caesars Palace in September of 1991.

4. Both the Rangers and Sabres have participated in a Winter Classic before

The Sabres hosted the very first Winter Classic on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium (now New Era Field), the home of the Buffalo Bills, in Orchard Park, NY against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game is remembered for the crazy amount of snow that made for a compelling atmosphere. The Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout with Sidney Crosby netting the S/O winner in front of a capacity crowd of 71,217 (still today the second largest attendance for an NHL game).

The Rangers traveled to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia (home of MLB’s Phillies) on Jan 2, 2012 to meet the Flyers in the annual game in front of 46,967. The Blueshirts would win the tilt 3-2, which included Henrik Lundqvist stopping a penalty shot late in the third period to preserve the one-goal lead.

5. The Blueshirts are undefeated in regular season outdoor games

The Blueshirts are 3-0 including a sweep of the “Stadium Series” in January 2014 at Yankee Stadium, defeating the Devils 7-3 and Islanders 2-1 in the span of 3 days.