Buffalo showed the NHL that outdoor games would work. On the 10-year anniversary of the first Winter Classic, the Sabres are heading outside again.
The NHL announced Tuesday night that Buffalo and the New York Rangers will meet Jan. 1 in Citi Field, the New York Mets’ 41,922-seat stadium. Newsday first reported the possibility in March, and the league made it official during the Rangers’ playoff game against Ottawa.
"I hope everyone remembers that the first Winter Classic was in Buffalo with the snow effect," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on NBCSN. "To have Buffalo back to do it again, maybe they’ll bring some snow with them."
Because the Rangers are required to play all their home games in Madison Square Garden, the outdoor game in Queens will be a Buffalo home game. Therefore, the Sabres will play 40 games in KeyBank Center rather than 41.
Ticket information will be released at a later date.
“After hosting the first NHL Winter Classic in 2008, we are happy to be able to celebrate the 10-year anniversary by playing in the 2018 game,” Sabres President Russ Brandon said. “We look forward to participating in this marquee event and helping to promote the great game of hockey on such a large scale.”
It will be an eventful holiday weekend for Buffalo hockey fans. The city is hosting the world junior championship, and the United States and Canada will play outside Dec. 29 in New Era Field. An hour flight or seven-hour drive will get fans to New York City for the world famous Times Square ball drop Dec. 31, and the puck drops at 1 p.m. New Year’s Day for the Sabres and Rangers.
"We have an intrastate rivalry between the Sabres and the Rangers, and doesn’t New Year’s start here at Times Square?" Bettman said. "It’s all good being in New York."
The Sabres hosted Pittsburgh in the Bills’ stadium Jan. 1, 2008. A then-record 71,217 fans partied in the snow as the Penguins earned a 2-1 shootout victory. Buoyed by the success, the NHL made the Winter Classic an annual event. It has since been held in Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Washington, Foxborough, Mass.; and St. Louis.
"It captures everybody’s attention," Bettman said. "It’s emotional. It’s our fans getting together in larger numbers than usual. … It takes the game back to its roots, and it’s the ultimate celebration for our sport."
Teams celebrate their appearance in the Winter Classic by donning throwback gear. The Sabres ditched their “slug” jerseys for the 2008 game in exchange for the white sweaters they wore from 1978 to 1996. Pittsburgh wore its powder blue uniform for the first time since 1973.
Like the Sabres, the Rangers have also appeared in one Winter Classic. They visited the Philadelphia Flyers in the Phillies’ baseball stadium in 2012. New York has played outside on two other occasions, facing the Islanders and New Jersey Devils in the Stadium Series in Yankee Stadium in 2014.
"We couldn’t be more excited," Bettman said. "I think this will be the 23rd outdoor game, including that first Winter Classic, and 1.2 million fans have attending these games. It’s nothing short of a phenomenon."