SPORTS

Habs to visit Bruins in 2016 Winter Classic as NHL unveils outdoor game schedule

01/24/2015 01:27 EST | Updated 03/26/2015 05:59 EDT
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Two years after the massive success at Michigan Stadium, the Montreal Canadiens will become the second Canadian NHL team to take part in a Winter Classic.

The Canadiens will visit the Boston Bruins at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on New Year's Day 2016, taking hockey's oldest rivalry outside.

"It was special in 2010 just to be there with the history behind Fenway Park and all that," Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron said. "But playing Montreal outside at Foxborough, we'll see if it beats it, but it's definitely going to be something great."

The Toronto Maple Leafs were the first Canadian team to crack the Winter Classic. The success of the 2014 game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor between the Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, especially in U.S. TV ratings, helped set the stage for the Habs' involvement.

This is the Bruins' second Winter Classic after hosting the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway in 2010. Boston is the first market to host multiple Winter Classic events, though Chicago has had one of those and a Stadium Series game.

"We know it's a great sports town, it's a great hockey town," commissioner Gary Bettman said. "The Bruins have a wonderful organization. And the opportunity to go back with this rivalry and play in a large stadium like Gillette, we think it's going to be a spectacular day."

Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL's New England Patriots, seats 68,756. A sellout wouldn't rival the Big House at Michigan, but it would be a step up from baseball stadiums that have hosted the game previously.

On Saturday, Bettman also announced two Stadium Series games for next season: the Minnesota Wild hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at TCF Bank Field in Minneapolis on Feb. 21 and the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Red Wings at Coors Field in Denver on Feb. 27.

Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher is looking forward to showcasing the "State of Hockey" at the University of Minnesota's football stadium.

"Our owner, Craig Leopold, has been adamantly pursuing this game and (is) very passionate about it," Fletcher said. "I think down the road we'd even like to get a Winter Classic as our team continues to improve and we make strides. To land a Stadium Series game is a great accomplishment and it's going to be a lot of fun."

The Blackhawks will be appearing in their league-high fourth outdoor game. They were most recently visitors against the Washington Capitals in the 2015 Winter Classic.

"I don't think it gets old at all," Chicago winger Patrick Kane said. "We kind of view ourselves and pride ourselves on being one of the faces of the league, as far as team-wise."

The Winnipeg Jets were supposed to host the Heritage Classic, but the NHL and CFL's Blue Bombers were unable to agree on a date to have the game at Investors Group Field. The league preferred December, but the Blue Bombers wanted it to be later in winter so as not to conflict with the Grey Cup.

"It was the window we had been talking about both with the (Jets) and with the Bombers for a long time, like two years," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Friday. "It was kind of a last-minute pivot by them with respect to no, we don't want to have it so close to the Grey Cup."

Bettman said he was hopeful the league could schedule something for the 2016-'17 season.

Toronto will reportedly host the 2017 Winter Classic and maybe even the all-star game, too, to celebrate the Leafs' 100-year anniversary. Bettman said the league wanted to honour that milestone and the NHL's 100th anniversary appropriately and was in discussions with the Leafs about future plans.

Bettman also said the Senators have expressed interest in hosting an outdoor game in Ottawa. TD Place, home of the Redblacks, has a capacity of just 24,000, which is the same issue with Montreal's Percival Molson Memorial Stadium.

"The problem is the stadium situation," Bettman said of Montreal. "Unless that changes dramatically or we figure out a way to pop up a stadium that would work, there's an indoor stadium and I think the football stadium only seats about 20,000 people, so it's not the same experience."

The 2016 Winter Classic will be the Canadiens' third outdoor game after visiting the Edmonton Oilers in the 2003 Heritage Classic and the Calgary Flames in the 2011 Heritage Classic.

During his state of the league address, Bettman also announced that Sportvision would be tracking player and puck movement at Saturday night's skills competition and Sunday afternoon's all-star game. There will be chips in jerseys and pucks to track speed and other things.

The NHL and NHLPA have discussed the possibility of doing that in the future but have not come to an agreement. This is an experiment, though Bettman said they were in the "embryonic" stage of discussions.

On the value of the Canadian dollar and its impact on next year's salary cap, Bettman said it won't cause too much of a decline from the early projection of US$73 million. An 80-cent dollar would see the cap drop to $71.7 million.

"I assure you, even with the decline in the Canadian dollar, the salary cap does not fall off a cliff," Bettman said. "No one can project where it's going but the point I'm making is, you are not going to see a dramatic difference."

The board of governors met Saturday morning in downtown Columbus, and the group was briefed on expansion, among other things. Bettman had little update on the impending season-ticket drive in Las Vegas but confirmed he met with the mayor of Seattle.

Las Vegas is considered the front-runner for NHL expansion, with arena issues holding Seattle back. Quebec City has an arena under construction, but unbalanced conferences mean the league is looking to expand West before East, Daly said.

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