Jan 1, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs players Phil Kessel (left) and James van Riemsdyk (right) are introduced as members of the U.S. Olympic hockey team after the 2014 Winter Classic hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Winter Classic and the Buffalo Sabres

While not the first to play outdoors, the Buffalo Sabres were the pioneers of the now annual Winter Classic, but haven’t been one of the teams to earn another arctic matchup.

The Winter Classic has made it’s roots in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Ann Arbor. All different cities, but the same atmosphere. Sometimes, even the same teams.

Buffalo Sabres fans flocked, tickets sold out in minutes, and on New Years Day in 2008, 71,217 fans crowded into Ralph Wilson Stadium to witness a totally different game. Prior to January 1, 2008, the highest record attendance for an NHL game would be set and held for five years, in the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames in the 2003 Heritage Classic, the first outdoor NHL game played.

Buffalo set the record for attendance, and held the record until this past classic, when Ann Arbor held a massive attendance of 105,491 But to Buffalo fans, we started it, but why haven’t we gotten it back?

This upcoming classic features two teams who have already played in a previous Winter Classic, pitting the Chicago Blackhawks against the Washington Capitals in the capital city. While no confirmed reports surfacing, it looks as if Nationals Park leads the charge as the site of choice to host the game. This comes on the heels of the NHL lockout back in 2013. Both teams had been set previously, but with the lockout, the league was forced to postpone the game until at least 2015.

Since the Sabres lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of the enormous crowd, they have tried again to earn the game again, but unfortunately have been snubbed, probably due to the league’s hesitation to hold it in the same venue as the first time.

Terry Pegula, you’re up.

Should the sale of the Buffalo Bills go his way, the key piece would be a new stadium with up-to-date amenities and technology, perfect for the NHL as they try to decide the future for the New Year’s Day game. But what team should we play? While the Penguins and the Sabres is always a decent game to watch with some bitterness between the two benches, the matchup doesn’t quite fit the “rivalry” aspect that has come in years since.

We have seen match-ups like Chicago and the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers or the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia. All of those teams have a history. The Original Six rivalries are just a small bit of it.

Even last years Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit game held a bit of a gritty edge to it, which is why I am saying it now.

Forget the fact that the LA Kings hosted the Anaheim Ducks, the Rangers faced the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils, while Chicago and Pittsburgh faced off in the NHL Stadium Series. That’s right, somehow they managed to keep an ice rink frozen in the middle of Los Angeles, some 60 degrees.

Dear NHL,

When Buffalo gets a new stadium for our Bills, please give us a Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres matchup and you won’t regret it.

Sincerely,

Sean McGrath

Just think about it. These teams dig deep each time they face off, and it is a game that the country would enjoy watching. There would be everything. Goals, hits and fights are just the start.

With the city on a rebound, and it likely continuing to blossom, it deserves another shot at a Winter Classic.

Given the two teams, this would be one game that could rake in money, not just for the city, but for the league itself.

Buffalo earning the Winter Classic by 2020? Sounds good.

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