The NHL Winter Classic is an annual event held by the National Hockey League (NHL) on or around New Year's Day in which a regular-season ice hockey game is played outdoors )generally in a football or baseball stadium) in an area with a resident NHL team.
The first Winter Classic was held in 2008 at the Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins.
A total of eight have been held, the most recent one taking place in 2016 between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.
After the success of the 2003 NHL Heritage Classic, the NHL's first regular season outdoor game, the league inaugurated the Winter Classic in 2008.
It eventually caught on as an annual tradition for the league, suspending only in 2013 due to the 2012–13 NHL lockout.
The 2014 game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings set a new NHL attendance record of 105,491.
The Winter Classic has been contested only in the United States while the Heritage Classic has been held exclusively in Canada.
The Winter Classic featured only American teams for its first five games, until the Leafs' appearance in 2014.
Along with the NHL All-Star Game, the Winter Classic is considered one of the NHL's premier events; with matchups generally booked to showcase the league's most popular teams and players, the event garners the league its highest attendance and among its highest television ratings.
The event is typically promoted as a return to the sport's outdoor roots, meant to evoke memories of pond hockey. Its popularity has led to the scheduling of additional outdoor hockey games, both in the NHL and other leagues worldwide.
In May of 2014, the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily named the Winter Classic its "Sports Event of the Year," making it the second time in five years the Classic has won that distinction.