Greatest hockey games at football venues
Thursday’s NFL regular-season opener reminds ardent puckheads of one thing, if nothing else. The 2018-19 season will feature two outdoor hockey games at a college football stadium, and one on an NFL gridiron.
An Original Six matchup between Chicago and Boston will comprise the 2019 NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. After hosting that game, Notre Dame Stadium will reportedly present its campus icers against Michigan. (That one is not yet confirmed, but would be a Frozen Four rematch. It may also prove a football playoff appetizer for the Irish faithful.)
And Flyers-Penguins is confirmed for this season’s Stadium Series at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, site of Thursday’s Eagles-Falcons matchup.
As of this writing, no matchup or site has been announced for a 2019 AHL Outdoor Classic. However, each of that event’s last two installments have taken place on a rented gridiron.
Logic favors football venues over baseball parks for outdoor hockey showcases. The east-to-west sightlines match those of an indoor arena, and the seating capacity tends to be larger.
But the competitive product on the ice is still a crucial ingredient to the experience. One of the reasons formal outdoor hockey games have caught on in this century may be the frequent closeness of those games.
Between the NHL, AHL, junior and NCAA men’s and women’s, there are more than enough one-goal decisions to fill a top 10. Some did not need overtime, let alone a shootout, to rank among the most memorable, though it helps.
Based on their unpredictability through regulation and dramatic finishes, these are the greatest displays of puck on pigskin property.
Honorable mention: Miami 4, Western Michigan 3
The main knock on this game — the first half of the 2015 Hockey City Classic at Chicago’s Soldier Field — is how lopsided it got in the second period. The RedHawks raised their advantage to 4-0 with three goals in a 9:04 span.
The Broncos renewed the game’s interest by scoring twice within 37 seconds in the ninth minute of the third.The 4-2 difference stood until WMU launched a last-ditch flurry with an extra attacker.
Shelden Dries brought the Broncos to within a single goal with 45.5 seconds to spare. But Miami would hold on from there.
10. Canadiens 4, Oilers 3
One year after the Alouettes edged the Eskimos for the 2002 Grey Cup, Commonwealth Stadium witnessed another Montreal victory over an Edmonton host.
But that is not to say the Oilers crumbled easy. They ran up a 37-23 shooting advantage in the 2003 Heritage Classic and thrice cut a two-goal deficit in half.
In a game that saw only five minor penalties and three power plays, the first period went scoreless. The Habs got on board in the first minute of the second, then doubled their lead at the 10:53 mark.
Eric Brewer would put Edmonton on the board two minutes and 52 seconds later. The pattern of Montreal regaining a two-goal cushion and the Oilers halving it again repeated twice in the third.
Steve Staois kept things interesting by making it 4-3 with 5:03 left, a mere 39 seconds after Richard Zednik made it 4-2. But that was as far as the toque-sporting Jose Theodore let the Oilers go. He never allowed an equalizer on the night.
9. Providence 4, Connecticut 3
The first two-goal difference in this Women’s Hockey East showdown lasted all of 65 seconds. Entertaining part of the 2011 Whaler Hockey Fest at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field, UConn fell behind, 2-0, at 2:26 of the middle frame.
At 3:31, Maude Blain got the Huskies on the board. The hosts pulled even barely six minutes later via Jenny Saxon.
In the latter half of that high-scoring stanza, PC’s Laura Veharanta single-handedly restored her team’s multi-goal advantage. But Connecticut kept it competitive, as Kelly Horan converted a power play with 15:16 left in the third.
Future Canadian Olympic goaltender Genevieve Lacasse took charge from there, preserving the Friars’ lead. In the midst of that, the rivalry showed its chippy side with a set of coincidental roughing minors at the nine-minute mark.
8. Wisconsin 3, Minnesota 2
The inaugural Hockey City Classic was held at Soldier Field in February 2013. By the time they took the ice for the second game, the Badger men were already 2-0 all-time in outdoor games. But they would need an outstanding performance in net to improve to the unprecedented 3-0 record.
Even as his team was doubled in shots on goal, 38-19, Joel Rumpel weathered the majority of Minnesota’s onslaught. The Gophers stayed off the board through the first 40 minutes on 27 bids.
Conversely, the Badgers struck first at 13:03 of the second, then quickly doubled the edge 70 seconds later. Sean Little appeared to open the floodgates when he made it 3-0 at 16:22 of the middle frame.
But that would be the end of Wisconsin’s production. In the third, Rumpel lost his shutout while the Gophers ran up their biggest shooting advantage of any period (11-3). But after Zach Budish cut the difference to 3-2 on a 6-on-5 conversion, the Badgers shut the door for good.
7. Maple Leafs 5, Red Wings 4 (OT)
BMO Field, home of the CFL’s Argonauts, hosted the NHL’s Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day, 2017. Precisely three years after their Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium went to a shootout, Detroit and Toronto had an even more dramatic overtime outdoor tilt.
The 2014 Winter Classic barely missed the cut here. Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier weathered a 1-0 deficit and 43 Red Wing shots to backstop the Buds to a 3-2 victory that day.
Here there was another lead change, but much more offense, almost exclusively in the third period. Trailing after Detroit drew first blood at 5:33 of the second, Toronto erupted to seize a 4-1 lead by the time there was 7:55 left.
What happened next must have triggered bitter flashbacks to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Leafs surrendered three unanswered goals within the last 6:06. With 1.1 seconds left, Anthony Mantha buried the equalizer through a chaotic pile-up.
But unlike that fateful night in Boston, Toronto regrouped before sudden death. After his team failed on three shots and had goalie Frederik Andersen turn away two, Leafs rookie sensation Auston Matthews lifted home a backhander for the win.
6. Condors 3, Reign 2 (OT)
For the first 40 minutes, the 2017 AHL Outdoor Classic was fairly even in every category except the one that mattered. Despite affording themselves three of the game’s five power plays, the host Condors could not click on the scoreboard.
By the second intermission, Ontario had a two-point edge in shots on goal (22-20) and shots in goal (2-0).
But then the Condors started pleasing their franchise-record crowd of 12,330 at Bakersfield College’s Memorial Stadium. Outshooting their visitors in a penalty-free closing frame, 12-4, they tallied two unanswered goals.
Josh Currie’s equalizer forced overtime with 2:17 left in regulation. Griffin Reinhart followed up with an unassisted clincher 46 seconds into sudden death.
5. Wisconsin 3, Michigan 2
The men’s half of the 2010 Camp Randall Hockey Classic had one clear star and an equally plain goat.
Wisconsin held an early lead, only to let Michigan draw a 1-1 knot going into the first intermission. After a scoreless second, Kevin Lynch spotted the visiting Wolverines a 2-1 advantage with 8:57 left in regulation.
The home crowd of 55,031, however, got a late perk-up three minutes and 15 seconds later. Visiting defenseman Chris Summers went off for tripping at 14:28 for his team’s second penalty of the night. He was released 10 seconds later, as Brendan Smith converted the Badger power play.
With 1:56 remaining, Summers was whistled again for slashing. With 1:22 left, Smith scored again for the eventual winner.
At that point, four men’s NCAA outdoor hockey games had been played all-time. Wisconsin, previously the victor at the 2006 Frozen Tundra in Green Bay, had hosted and won two of them.
4. U.S. 4, Canada 3 (SO)
Suburban Buffalo’s New Era Field (nee Ralph Wilson Stadium) hosted the border rivals’ round-robin tilt at the 2017-18 World Junior Championship. It would be second competitive hockey game held on the Bills’ turf, and the second to require a shootout.
Until the seventh minute of the third period, extra action was not looking like a possibility. The Canadians had scored two unanswered power-play goals in the first, then renewed their two-point edge 72 seconds after America got on board.
But after the 3-1 deficit survived the second intermission, the host nation got a burst of productivity. Scott Perunovich and Brady Tkachuk struck 34 seconds apart, tying the game with 13:17 remaining. With the lone assist on both plays, Casey Mittelstadt completed a playmaker hat trick.
Representing the U.S. on its first two tries, Kieffer Bellows, who supplied his team’s first goal in the middle frame, and Tkachuk gave the Americans a quick 2-0 shootout lead. Afterward, goalie Jake Oettinger only needed to stop Taylor Raddyish and Drake Batheson in the third and fourth rounds.
3. Bruins 5, Whale 4 (SO)
When you include the shootout, the grand finale of the 2011 Whaler Hockey Fest featured three lead changes.
Earlier in the season, the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack morphed into the Connecticut Whale. That and the slew of outdoor games at UConn’s football venue were meant to woo back the NHL.
The experiment failed in the end, but the compelling competition that mid-February night did not hurt. Connecticut built a 2-0 lead in the first period, then rebounded when Providence took a 3-2 advantage before the halfway mark of the middle frame. Jeremy Williams and Jared Nightengale scored 59 seconds apart to put the hosts back ahead.
But the Bruins tallied the lone third-period goal with 6:08 left, forcing overtime. When that did not suffice, goaltenders Dov Grumet-Morris and Michael Hutchinson kept the shootout scoreless through three rounds.
Max Sauve finally struck for Providence, then watched as Hutchinson went 5-for-5 in his crease, giving the visitors the victory.
2. Michigan 3, Michigan State 3
The game that sparked this century’s outdoor hockey fever helped whet people’s appetite with its compelling competition.
At the time, the crowd at Spartan Stadium for this 2001-02 season opener shattered a world record with 74,544 spectators. Everyone got their money’s worth, as each rival led at least once, and never by multiple goals.
The host MSU drew first blood at 3:35 of the first period. The Wolverines got the first equalizer before intermission, then seized the lead on the middle frame’s only goal.
Future NHL mainstays Duncan Keith of the Spartans and Mike Cammalleri of Michigan traded third-period goals. Cammalleri’s second tally of the night stood as the go-ahead for precisely eight minutes. But that was until MSU reignited its home audience, as Jim Slater tied things back up with 47 seconds left.
With no scoring on two Wolverine shots and one Spartan in overtime, the 3-3 draw held up.
1. Penguins 2, Sabres 1 (SO)
By comparison, the picturesque visuals of light snow at Ralph Wilson Stadium were mere gravy. The first NHL Winter Classic did not disappoint, first and foremost, because two veteran outdoor hockey goalies flexed their experience.
Sabres stopper Ryan Miller had been a part of the first competitive college outdoor game. Pittsburgh counterpart Ty Conklin had tended the Oilers net against Montreal in 2003.
They each blinked once in 65 minutes while the teams again played relatively clean. After helping his team kill three unanswered penalties, Miller even drew Buffalo’s first power play.
Colby Armstrong was whistled for goalie interference late in the first period. There were no more penalties until he was called for hooking at the third-period buzzer. With that, Buffalo had two minutes of 4-on-3 to start sudden death.
But the Sabres failed to find the clincher despite taking all seven of the overtime’s shots at Conklin. That ultimately set the stage for Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in the shootout. He wrapped up the unique regular-season thriller by beating Miller on the last shot of the day.