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Three outdoor games highlight 2015-16 schedule

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

COLUMBUS -- One of hockey's oldest rivalries and two Western Conference cities hosting an NHL outdoor game for the first time will be highlights of the 2015-16 season after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the League's upcoming outdoor schedule Saturday at Nationwide Arena.

The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will play at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Jan. 1 in the Bridgestone 2016 NHL Winter Classic. There will be two Coors Light Stadium Series games in 2015-16.

The first will be Feb. 21 at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. That game will feature the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks. Six days later, the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings will play at Coors Field in Denver.

This will be the second NHL Winter Classic in Boston. The Bruins played the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park in 2010.

"Those two teams (the Bruins and Canadiens) have played each other more times than they've played any other opponents in their respective history," Bettman said. "The renewal of the rivalry on New Year's Day should be memorable."

Boston and Montreal have played more than 900 times, including 34 series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canadiens have won 25 of those, including a seven-game upset of the division-champion Bruins during the 2014 playoffs. Boston defeated Montreal in seven games en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2011.

"Really excited," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "I think it's definitely something great for the city, but also for us as players. I had a chance to be part of the Winter Classic in 2010. It was a great experience. To have it again against our big rivals with the history behind the two teams is definitely going to be something that I'll be looking forward to."

The Coors Light Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium will take place on Hockey Day in America and be the signature event on a day celebrating hockey around the nation. Opened in 2009, the stadium is home to the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the temporary home for the Minnesota Vikings while their new stadium is under construction.

It is nestled in the middle of the University of Minnesota campus and should offer a unique experience for outdoor NHL hockey.

"It's a great day for our organization," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "It is a great day for the State of Hockey. Everyone knows we've been pursuing an outdoor game for a while, and it is a great day to finally be able to announce we're hosting one. Our fans deserve it. Certainly our players are excited to play in it. Our staff is excited to put on a good show.

"We call ourselves the State of Hockey. We produce more players than any other state. Hockey thrives at every level outside of the NHL. We have college hockey, high school hockey, girls hockey, women's hockey. Besides the great game with the Wild and the Blackhawks, we'll hopefully have a chance to showcase the other levels of hockey and the passion our fans have for the game."

The Wild and Blackhawks have faced each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs each of the past two seasons. Chicago won comfortably en route to the Stanley Cup in 2013, but Minnesota outplayed Chicago for large swaths of the series last season before the Blackhawks advanced in six games.

This will be the fourth outdoor game for the Blackhawks and the third straight season with one.

"I think that rivalry is growing for sure," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. "Minnesota is a great hockey state and the fans enjoy hockey up there. We're happy to be going there.

"I was thinking of [the weather]. It might be a little cooler than it was in Washington [for the 2015 NHL Winter Classic]. That's what the outdoor game is all about. We had the snow in Chicago when we played Pittsburgh. It was a different type of hockey game. There are some things you have to adjust to, but you enjoy it. You're outside playing a hockey game. You kind of feel like a kid again."

For a segment of American hockey fans of a certain age, Red Wings-Avalanche was the top rivalry of their childhood. Colorado and Detroit became two of the NHL's dominant franchises in the mid-1990s and waged epic postseason battles with one another for Western Conference supremacy.

Between 1996 and 2002, the Avalanche and Red Wings met four times in the postseason, including the Western Conference Final in 1996, 1997 and 2002. From 1995 to 2002, one of the two won the Stanley Cup five times and represented the West in the Final six times.

"It is obvious. It is a great rivalry," Bettman said of bringing the Red Wings to Denver. "It will intrigue some people about when both teams were in the West and the great rivalry they had, going back to some playoffs and some fierce competition they had. We think it will be a lot of fun for the fans."

Bettman spoke of what he hoped would be a fourth outdoor game in the 2015-16 season, but a Heritage Classic played in Winnipeg did not materialize.

"We were unable to agree with the [Winnipeg] Blue Bombers on a date that would make each comfortable," Bettman said. "Hopefully we can schedule something for the following season. No firm plans to announce other than it's something we'd like to do because we very much wanted an outdoor game next season in Winnipeg."

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