Gladiator combat. Chariot races. Ice hockey?
In just about a week ice hockey will be played at Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheater in Croatia built between 27 B.C. and 68 A.D. Croatian club Medveščak Zagreb of the Erste Bank Hockey League will take on the Slovenian Olimpija Ljubljana team in the 2012 Arena Ice Fever exhibition series next Friday in the 2,000 year-old arena.
Is this the most impressive location for an outdoor exhibition match? You be the judge, as the Blackhawks Blog recounts hockey games played in notable and unique locations:
1. 1924 Winter Olympics (Chamonix, France)
The inaugural Winter Olympic Games marked the first time in which ice hockey was played outdoors in a competitive setting. The outdoor rink used in these games was subject to extreme weather conditions, including warm sun and heavy rain. In fact, the weather prevented the Canadian hockey team from practicing on the ice throughout the entire tournament. They ended up getting along just fine, as Canada’s lone medal of the Olympics came from their hockey domination. The Toronto Granites hockey team, who won all five of their matches by outscoring their opponents 110-3, defeated the United States 6-1 in the Olympic gold-medal match.
2. 1957 World Championship—Lenin Stadium (Moscow, Russia)
Hockey games at the World Championships have been played outdoors from time to time since the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924. Around 55,000 spectators came out to watch the Soviet Union and Sweden battle for supremacy at the Lenin Stadium in Moscow.
3. 2001 Cold War—Spartan Stadium (East Lansing, Mich.)
The "Cold War," held in Michigan State University's Spartan Stadium, started a trend of holding outdoor games as major events in recent years. The Spartans squared off against state rivals University of Michigan Wolverines on Oct. 6, 2001, and over 74,000 fans showed up to witness a 3-3 draw. Nine years later, the schools met again in an outdoor exhibition game, this time with the University of Michigan playing host. The Wolverines blanked the visiting Spartans 5-0 in “The Big Chill at the Big House.” The Dec. 11, 2010, match remains the highest-attended hockey game on record, with 113,411 fans packed into Michigan Stadium.
4. 2009 KHL All-Star Game—Red Square (Moscow, Russia)
In the Kontinental Hockey League’s inaugural All-Star Game, Team Yashin (the Russian side led by captain Alexei Yashin) fell to Team Jágr (Jaromír Jágr and the non-Russian All-Stars) 7-6 in front of roughly 4,000 fans who came out to the Jan. 10, 2009, game. Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was selected to participate in the festivities and served as backup goaltender for Team Jágr.
5. 2003 NHL Heritage Classic—Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton, Alberta)
In the NHL’s first attempt at hosting an outdoors match, the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers faced off in bone-chilling temperatures: minus-2 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact. In the end, Montreal defeated the hosts 4-3 in front of 57,167 frozen fans.
Honorable mention: 2009 NHL Winter Classic—Wrigley Field (Chicago, Ill.)
We’d be remiss not to include the historic second edition of the NHL Winter Classic, which pitted the Blackhawks against their Original Six rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, in one of baseball’s most iconic parks—Wrigley Field. Nearly 41,000 fans attended the New Year’s Day extravaganza.