Two of Canada's Cup-less teams – the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators – will face off in the 2014 Heritage Classic at BC Place on March 2, the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Wednesday.
The 2014 affair (to take place in the second half of next season) will be the third Heritage Classic and the first outdoor hockey game for either franchise. The Heritage Classic hosted the NHL's first-ever outdoor game in 2003, between Edmonton and Montreal, and was last alive in 2011 at Calgary's Saddledome, for a game between the Flames and the Canadiens.
"With one of the world's great facilities as the setting, and one of the world's most scenic cities as the backdrop, the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at BC Place in Vancouver will honour hockey's Canadian heritage," said commissioner Bettman. "With the excitement, the entertainment, the competitiveness and the fun of this game, the Canucks and Senators will create special memories for hockey fans everywhere."
The Heritage Classic is different than the Winter Classic, which will next be hosted at Michigan's Big House stadium next season, for a game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Also in 2014, the NHL will releases its first-ever 'NHL Stadium Series', which consists of four other outdoor games: the Kings vs the Ducks in Dodger Stadium, the Devils vs the Rangers in Yankee Stadium, the Islanders vs the Rangers in Yankee Stadium, and the Penguins vs the Blackhawks in Chicago's Soldier Field.
The NHL has proclaimed success with its recent run of high-profile outdoor hockey games, mostly stemming from the large attendance records and television deals with NBC, CBC, and HBO, which produces a documentary series called 24/7 (and will now be carried on Sportsnet and Rogers in Canada).
Four of the past five Winter Classics rank in the top five most-watched NHL regular season games in the United States, dating back to 1975.
2011's contest – which featured the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field, in a much-talked-about rivalry between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby – has drawn the most viewers to-date, with 4.56 million for NBC.
The American Hockey League (the NHL's farm system) also hosts an outdoor game every year.
However, the surge in the event's popularity – but also its occurrence – has led to some cynicism from media members and observers, with many wondering whether the NHL is putting its prized pig into overkill.
"When we first reported this past spring that the NHL was going to go hog-wild with outdoor games this coming season, there was a lot of harrumphing and head-shaking, mostly from the media and often from folks who've never bothered to show up at one of the league's outdoor event," wrote ESPN's Scott Burnside, on Wednesday.
"Will it be outdoor overkill?
"Each game represents something unique in its marketplace, so if there is a lessening of the oomph factor nationally, the NHL is banking on more than making up for it with the interest in places such as New York, Chicago and the Los Angeles area. Of course, every game also represents a battle between a pro sports league and Mother Nature, and now that battle will be waged times six – heightening the likelihood of some sort of natural impediment to a game coming off as planned. But that's part of the drama, no?"
The game in Vancouver is sure to draw a lot of interest from both Canuck Nation and the legions of Senator fans, as both those franchise (now together with the new Winnipeg Jets) have lacked the history and winning record of the other Canadian teams in Toronto, Montreal, and Alberta.
The history has never quite been there, so each franchise has had to make its own. Vancouver and Ottawa are also the last two Canadian teams to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, with Ottawa losing to Anaheim in 2007 and Vancouver losing to Boston in 2011.
The game will also be hosted in B.C. and at BC Place, and the West Coast aptly showed off its riches during the 2010 Winter Olympics, as Vancouver was awash with red, white, and gold.
Of course, the Olympic experience in Vancouver does beg another question...
Who's going to bring the snow?
Here are the venues that will host all six NHL outdoor games in the 2013-14 season, starting with Vancouver and then moving chronologically:
Vancouver's home of the Whitecaps and the BC Lions will host the third-ever Heritage Classic on March 2, 2014.
Vancouver Canucks vs Ottawa Senators
Michigan Stadium (the Big House in Ann Arbor)
The NHL's largest-ever slate of outdoor games kicks off with the sixth version of the Winter Classic on January 1 – New Year's Day – and the much-anticipated debut of the Toronto Maple Leafs, both in the Classic and on HBO's 24/7.
The Big House is the largest stadium of its kind in the United States, and has a record attendance of over 114,000.
Detroit Red Wings vs Toronto Maple Leafs
The home of one of two L.A. area baseball teams and the 2012 Cup champions Kings will host their neighbours to the slightly south, the Anaheim Ducks, on January 25. This will be the first of the NHL's four Stadium Series matches next season.
Los Angeles Kings vs Anaheim Ducks
One of the America's most famous ballparks – the House that Ruth Built, 2.0 – will host the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils on January 26.
New York Rangers vs New Jersey Devils
Yankee Stadium (again)
You guessed it... the Rangers and Yankee Stadium are at it again, only three days after their first outdoor game, to host the Islanders on January 29.
New York Rangers vs New York Islanders
Chicago and the Blackhawks get their second chance to host an NHL outdoor game in the final stop on the Stadium Series, on March 1.
The city also held the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Pittsburgh Penguins