COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Saturday, the NHL finally announced what had been suspected for a month and known for a week: The Bruins will host the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., playing their longtime rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.
“[It took] not a little, a lot of lobbying on our behalf to say we want to host this game,” said Charlie Jacobs, CEO of Delaware North and the Bruins. “Maybe some arm-twisting with some of the other leadership at the NHL level.
“I think that’s going to be a great atmosphere. The fact that we’re getting it twice I think speaks a lot about the market that we play in and the passionate fan base, not only for Boston but the Montreal fans that may come down and I’ll expect will be in Gillette Stadium as well.”
The Bruins are the first team to host the NHL’s signature game for a second time. Five teams have played in two editions of the Winter Classic (Penguins, Blackhawks, Capitals, Red Wings, and Flyers). The Bruins played the Flyers on Jan. 1, 2010, at Fenway Park, winning in overtime.
“It does get you back to your roots when you get outdoors and to have a league game that counts and matters and an opponent like Montreal is pretty special,” Bruins president Cam Neely said.
To accomodate the Winter Classic at Gillette, the Patriots will play their final two regular-season games on the road next season.
When the Bruins and Flyers played at Fenway, during baseball’s offseason, the league had more flexibility in terms of building the rink and keeping it up. Those logistics will certainly be more complicated at Gillette. The stadium can hold approximately double the fans at Fenway, but the playing surface may have to be reconditioned if the Patriots were to host an NFL playoff game in early January.
Playing in Foxborough also provides the Bruins opportunities to do more in the surrounding community, with youth hockey events and corporate events, Neely said. He mentioned, too, the potential for a smaller sheet of ice for kids, something they weren’t able to provide at Fenway.
There could also be a Bruins alumni game, though Neely is no sure bet to be a part of that. As he said, “I haven’t played since the last Winter Classic game [at Fenway]. That might have been it. Certainly a lot of rust.”
The league is coming off its lowest national rating for the annual outdoor game, having garnered only a 2.3 for Blackhawks-Capitals at Nationals Park on Jan. 1. The previous Winter Classic, between Detroit and Toronto at Michigan Stadium, drew a 2.9.
But the Bruins are confident that a matchup with the Canadiens will help TV ratings rebound in the US.
“I think we’re going to drive the biggest numbers you’ve ever seen,” Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said. “Really. That was true in the Detroit situation. I think it’ll be more so in ours. It’s just New England hockey. Let’s face it: There isn’t anything like it.”