A new event, a historic celebration, three classic rivalries, and two venues playing host to a hockey game for the first time highlight the NHL regular-season outdoor games scheduled for the 2016-17 season that were announced by the League on Wednesday.
In 2017, the NHL will hold a year-long Centennial celebration that will feature a variety of ceremonies, recognitions, observances and special events to highlight 100 years of NHL hockey and recognize a number of milestone anniversaries for several teams.
Video: NHL Centennial Classic January 1st, 2017 at BMO Field
On Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, the Toronto Maple Leafs will host the Detroit Red Wings at BMO Field in Toronto in the NHL Centennial Classic. This rematch of the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will help honor the centennial year of the Maple Leafs.
On New Year's Day 2014, a record crowd of 105,491 watched Toronto and Detroit rekindle their Original Six rivalry at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Snow fell throughout the day, providing the perfect backdrop for the game, won by the Maple Leafs 3-2 in a shootout.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told Sportsnet on Wednesday how strongly the Maple Leafs felt about hosting a tentpole event in the League's 100th year.
"We couldn't be more thrilled to have this matchup and to have our Centennial Classic be in Toronto," he said. "We're going to be using this game as the jumping-off point, there will be a lot of pageantry around the fact that we're 100 years old and we're really proud of it.
"[Maple Leafs executive] Larry Tannenbaum, Brendan Shanahan couldn't have been more persistent, to put it mildly. But frankly, it's the right place to be and the right thing to do. We're thrilled we were able to collaborate to make this a reality."
"Obviously it's a little bit more intimate [than Ann Arbor]; we'll have about 35,000 people," Shanahan told NBC Sports Network. "It'll be a good mix between Toronto and Detroit fans. Both franchises are very proud franchises with passionate fans, so I expect it to be loud. There's going to be great sightlines, there's going to be a great atmosphere."
Video: Busch Stadium hosts the 2017 Winter Classic
The 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will feature the St. Louis Blues, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary, and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Monday, Jan. 2. It is the first time the Blues will host the Winter Classic, and it's their first appearance in a regular-season outdoor game.
The Blackhawks will be making their fifth appearance in an outdoor game and their third appearance in the Winter Classic; they hosted the 2009 game at Wrigley Field in Chicago (losing 6-4 to the Red Wings) and played in the 2015 game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. (losing 3-2 to the Washington Capitals).
"The matchup of the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium continues the great traditions of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," Commissioner Bettman said. "We're delighted that, during our Centennial year, the great fans in St. Louis can host the first outdoor meeting of these two Central Division neighbors, who are separated by fewer than 300 miles and are unified by 50 years of an outstanding hockey rivalry."
The 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series will visit Pennsylvania when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Philadelphia Flyers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Feb. 18. Immediate rivals when they entered the League in 1967-68, the Penguins and Flyers have played 274 times in the regular season, but this will be the first game between the two contested outdoors.
"Both franchises really wanted to do it and they're talking about a rematch a couple of years down the road in Philadelphia after that outdoors," Commissioner Bettman told NBC Sports Network.
"The Flyers are very excited to be able to compete in the outdoor Stadium Series against our intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field," Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. "This will be a great showcase between two teams celebrating their 50th anniversary."
The Penguins and Flyers joined the NHL in 1967 as part of the League's six-team expansion that included the Blues and Los Angeles Kings. These special outdoor events, together with the Kings hosting the 2017 NHL All-Star Game at Staples Center, are part of the celebration and anniversary-themed initiatives.
"It's something that we're very proud of and we want to celebrate," Commissioner Bettman said of the NHL's 100th anniversary. "There will be a number of events, there will be a number of outdoor games. We'll be doing special things with fans about [what] the best 100 moments in our history that fans and media experts would like, 100 best players in the history of the game, and a whole host of other things where we're going to bring our history to our fans throughout the 30 club markets."
Additional details relating to the 2017 NHL Centennial Classic, 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, and 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, including ticketing and broadcasting information, the addition of special events around the games and more will be released at a future date. Fans can visit NHL.com/events to sign up to receive more information on these and other NHL Events.
As previously announced, the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic will feature the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers in a regular-season outdoor game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg on Sunday, Oct. 23.
At the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, 23 teams will have participated in the NHL's 22 regular-season outdoor games.
"All in all, we think there's going to be a lot for our fans to get excited about and to celebrate," Commissioner Bettman said.
Video: Tom Stillman can't wait for the 2017 Winter Classic