Mike "Doc" Emrick, who will call the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET; NBC), said his favorite part about the annual event is the unpredictability.
"With the exception of Sidney Crosby (Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, 2008), there's no marquee [player] who [has ended] up being the hero," Emrick said Tuesday. "It was Jiri Hudler at Wrigley Field (Chicago, 2009), Marco Sturm at Fenway Park (Boston, 2010), Eric Fehr at Heinz Field (Pittsburgh, 2011), Mike Rupp in Philadelphia (Citizens Bank Park, 2012), Tyler Bozak in Ann Arbor (Michigan Stadium, 2014) and Troy Brouwer in Nationals Park (Washington, 2015), so that's another one of the unpredictable elements."
The player who scored the game-winner may end up being a surprise, but one thing that is all but guaranteed is there will be intensity in the 2016 game, which features two Original Six teams that have played one another more times in the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs than any two other NHL teams.
"You should be able to play with the same intensity every game, but it just isn't that way," Mike Milbury, a studio analyst for NBC and former Bruins player and coach said. "It's a tribute to the fans and how much they invest in it and how much is required for the players to invest in it, and it's a lot every time these two teams square off."
Pierre McGuire, who will be "Inside the Glass" for the game, grew up in Montreal but rooted for each team as a child.
"Any time Montreal and Boston play, it is a huge event. As a kid growing up, there used to be long, long lines just for standing-room-only tickets to watch Bobby Orr play," McGuire said. "When I was a kid growing up and going to school, everybody loved to hate the Bruins. I was kind of in between since my favorite player was Bobby Orr, and then all of a sudden, Larry Robinson came along for Montreal and I kind of went towards the Canadiens, but it's a huge huge thing whenever Boston and Montreal play.
"It doesn't matter where they are in the standings. What matters the most is that you know it's going to be intense and it's going to be full of passion and you know both teams are going to give everything they have."
The Canadiens have won two of the first three games against the Bruins this season. Montreal, which had a record-setting 9-0-0 start to the season, has lost four of five games; Boston has at least a point in 11 of 12 games since stumbling out of the gate.
"These are two good teams," Milbury said. "Boston is better than expected after going through many changes. And Montreal, even without [goalie] Carey Price, is still a very quick team and going to give Boston all it can handle."
Ed Olczyk, who will call the game with Emrick, said he is impressed with how the Canadiens have been able to respond to the loss of Price, who likely will miss the Winter Classic because of a lower-body injury.
"I think it speaks to coaching and it obviously speaks to the leadership inside that room [for the Canadiens] to be able to do what they've been able to do," Olczyk said. "They kind of stubbed their toe here a little bit over the last little while, but it was an incredible run the first time that Carey Price was banged up. Their defensive core is pretty healthy, and I think when you can defend, you are going to be in a lot of hockey games. [Backup goalie Mike] Condon has come in and played very well ... once you get the reigning MVP of the National Hockey League back, the Canadiens become a real dangerous team. ... For me, what the Canadiens have been able to do without the reigning MVP has been pretty impressive."
McGuire praised the Bruins for changing their style compared to past seasons.
"They are an aggressive offensive team and have one of the best power plays in the game," he said. "Last season, I think we witnessed the best played outdoor game ever between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks and I really believe this season has a chance to rival that."
In its eighth year, the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic has become one of the highlights of the NHL season.
"It's a New Year's tradition, and people now expect on New Year's Day to sit and watch what is a true spectacle in hockey," executive producer Sam Flood said. "It started and caught on so quickly because of what Buffalo was. It was the perfect storm. A storm came in ...the guys were skating around on the ice [in snow]. The game is won at that time by the rising star in the game in Sidney Crosby. It all created the perfect backdrop to make people fall in love with it and a lot of people were chatting about it and talking about it.
"Gillette is going to be a wonderful place to play. ...We think all the ingredients are there to have another home run game."