DALLAS — The persistence finally paid off for the Minnesota Wild, who were announced as the host of the 2021 NHL Winter Classic at Target Field in Minneapolis against an opponent that has yet to be determined.
The NHL has been holding outdoor games since 2008, but the Wild have appeared in only one: a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 21, 2016.
“[Wild owner] Craig Leipold has been … to say ‘persistent’ would be a gross understatement, about getting a Winter Classic,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Wednesday. “We’re excited to go. I imagine the temperature there is about 30 degrees cooler than it is here right now. But it should make for a great experience for the state of Hockey.”
This is the second year in a row that the NHL has named the site of the Winter Classic without specifying the opponent. The Nashville Predators were announced as the Dallas Stars’ opponent for the 2020 Classic weeks after the Cotton Bowl was revealed as the site.
As previously reported by ESPN, the Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets are in the mix as potential opponents.
The Blues appear to be the front-runner to face the Wild, having won the Stanley Cup last season. The Blues will host the NHL All-Star Game later this month. The Jets are the closest opponent geographically, but only two Canadian teams have ever appeared in the Winter Classic — the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. Chicago has made the most appearances (six) in NHL outdoor games, last appearing in the 2019 Winter Classic.
“Let the speculation begin,” said Bettman, who said a decision would come in the next few months. “It’s not a one-shot decision based on one factor. We look at a whole host of things: rivalries, who’s playing well, geography. Will some teams travel better than others to a particular market.”
Speaking of fans who travel, Bettman praised the more than 20,000 Predators fans who made the trip to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl Classic and said the NHL is working to get Nashville an outdoor game.
“We’ve been focused on trying to get an outdoor game in Nashville. We’re not going to point fingers at anybody, but it’s been difficult logistically in terms of when we might want to schedule. But I would like to see an outdoor game in Nashville’s future at some point,” he said.