6 Most-Attended Outdoor Hockey Games Ever

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On January 1, the Detroit Red Wings faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League’s annual outdoor game. Ever since the inaugural match in 2008, the Winter Classic has become a staple on New Year’s day. But outdoor hockey has been played for much longer than five years, whether it’s with friends on a local pond, kids playing on their frozen backyard, or a televised game in front of thousands of people.

Every season, the Winter Classic rotates outdoor venues. This year, it was held at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with hopes of setting the Guinness Book of World Records tally for most people attending an outdoor hockey game. While the number of tickets sold — 105,491, according to the NHL — for the 2014 Winter Classic posits that game as the new world record, the actual number is determined by tickets scanned into the stadium, which takes about a month to establish.

Hockey traditionalists see outdoor games as the sport going back its roots. And the events really do bring out everything that’s pure about hockey, all at once: the cold temperatures, the grittiness, and, as this list will show, the inclement weather that comes with the unknown. Barring the pending Winter Classic attendance results, here are the six biggest outdoor hockey games to ever be played.

[Note: Games pictured may not match the game listed.]

Source: John Johnston / Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

6. 2003 Heritage Classic (attendance: 57,167)

The only game on this list to take place in Canada, the 2003 Heritage Classic was a battle between two Canadian NHL teams, the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Attendance came in at 57,167, and this game at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, was the first official NHL game played outdoors as part of the regular season. Given the tagline “A November to Remember,” the Canadiens went on to defeat the Oilers, 4-3, despite November temperatures of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill. Though the Heritage Classic wasn’t a huge publicity event for the NHL at the time, it paved the way for the Winter Classic tradition that’s taken place every year since 2008.

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