Football in baseball stadiums, baseball in football stadiums and hockey in baseball and football stadiums. We seem to be in an age where one sport transplanting its game into an unnatural surrounding seems to be pretty trendy. Gimmicky, sure, but why can’t we have a little fun and take an opportunity to show off one sport in a setting that may not be all too familiar to fans of that particular sport?
Since making an annual event of taking its game to the outdoors, the National Hockey League has played its Winter Classic in a football stadium three times, with a fourth coming up in 2016. Michigan Stadium hosted the 2014 NHL Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. As you would suspect, the 2014 Winter Classic holds the attendance record for an outdoor hockey game with a total of 105,491 people on hand for the event.
College football stadiums make for great venues for this event. Not only do many of the more convenient stadiums have plenty of seats to cram hockey fanatics, but as college football stadiums they tend to have more open availability for the NHL to coordinate with. After all, NFL stadiums run the risk of potentially hosting an NFL playoff game or have the NFL regular season interfere. This turned out to not be a problem in 2008 (Buffalo) or 2011 (Pittsburgh), but having more open dates to work with is a nice convenience to have. This is also just part of the reason we have seen the NHL take its game to baseball stadiums in 2009 (Wrigley Field), 2010 (Fenway Park) and 2012 (Citizens Bank Park) and most recently this year in Nationals Park.
The NHL has next year’s Winter Classic set up for Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. In addition to the Winter Classic, the NHL has also started up an annual Stadium Series. These are additional outdoor games that have also taken to baseball stadiums and NFL stadiums for the most part. In 2016 the Stadium Series will visit TCF Bank Stadium, home to the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten. It will be the second time a Big Ten football stadium has hosted an outdoor hockey game, but it may not be the last. Nor should it.
Recently NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about the possibility of bringing the NHL Winter Classic to State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State‘s Beaver Stadium has long been the topic of various outdoor hockey rumors, and appropriately so. Right between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers and on a campus with a good percentage of fans from both sides of the state, Beaver Stadium seems almost too perfect an option to not receive a future outdoor hockey game in one capacity or another. It’s going to happen someday, but Bettman has not suggested how soon it may become a reality.
“There’s been talk about it,” Bettman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Wednesday. “I’m intrigued by the possibility. But it’s not anywhere close to fruition.”
With the talk continuing to be out in the open, here are five college football stadiums that would make for a perfect outdoor hockey game should the NHL come calling. For the purposes of this conversation, Michigan Stadium and TCF Bank Stadium have been removed from consideration due to prior or upcoming outdoor NHL action already booked.
1. Beaver Stadium, Penn State
Ideal Match-up: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Maybe it is the Pennsylvanian inside of me, but ever since the NHL started organizing these outdoor games I have fantasized about seeing the Flyers and Penguins face off in Beaver Stadium. For a while it was thought Joe Paterno would have none of it, but it’s a brand new era and things have changed. With Penn State recently taking their hockey program up a notch and the intensity of the Penguins-Flyers rivalry, this just has to happen as soon as possible.
2. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
Ideal Match-up: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Detroit Red Wings or Pittsburgh Penguins
Just like Michigan and Penn State, Ohio State would likely be able to pack in a ton of fans in the 100,000+ seat Ohio Stadium. But which teams do you pair them up with the local Columbus Blue Jackets? After all, the NHL wants to market the game as best as possible, so they won’t be bringing in the Tampa Bay Lightning here. Stick with one of the more recognizable brands in the league; Detroit Red Wings or Pittsburgh Penguins.
3. Neyland Stadium, Tennessee
Ideal Match-up: Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues or Chicago Blackhawks
Moving a bit to the south, a region the NHL has been trying to invest in over the years, could be a good move for the league. Throwing out the idea of playing in Florida, what better place to set a destination for than Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium? The Nashville Predators are a three-hour drive away, but a chance to see hockey in Neyland Stadium would be a great way to try and grow the hockey market in the south. Bring in division rivals St. Louis or Chicago and you should be good to go.
4. Yale Bowl, Yale
Ideal Match-Up: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens (or Carolina Hurricanes?)
This one might be a bit outside the box, but if the goal is to play in historic venues then the NHL could do worse than setting up shop in the Yale Bowl. The original bowl stadium and home to the Yale Bulldogs, Yale Bowl has been the setting for so much college football history over the years. Bring the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens to the stadium, set them up in Original Six throwbacks, and we could have quite the scene here. Or, instead of Montreal, bring the Carolina Hurricanes in and have them wear Hartford Whalers throwbacks and we’re in business.
5. Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame
Ideal Match-up: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
Notre Dame is a solid hockey school and the image of Touchdown Jesus watching the puck drop in front of him is visually stunning. There is no question Notre Dame Stadium has seen its share of history, and an outdoor game inside the historic venue would be quite a draw.
Some stadiums considered but just off the list.
Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin: Consider this one 5a. Wisconsin was that close to being included on the list, and you can make a very strong argument for being included above. Bring in the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks and get the NHL fans jumping around because this would be a good one.
Franklin Field, Penn: Along similar lines to the Yale Bowl, Franklin Field is home to a tremendous amount of sports history and is the current home to the Penn Quakers and the annual Penn Relays. The stadium would need some work done on it to attract the NHL and the city already has Citizens Bank Park right across the street from the Flyers.
Autzen Stadium, Oregon: Oregon’s home field is one of the most electric stadiums in the world of college football, but a lack of ideal hockey options in barren region on the NHL’s map keeps Nike country out of the mix. For now.
LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU: The scenery alone would be tremendous. Like Oregon though, a lack of nearby NHL fanbases makes BYU a tall order for the NHL.
Rose Bowl Stadium: I considered it, but the thought of doing anything but play football (or soccer) on that beautiful green grass prevented me from using it. Same goes for the Los Angeles Coliseum.