It’s hard to find a more majestic event in sports than the NHL Winter Classic.
Hockey heads outside once again this season, as the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild battle at Target Field in Minneapolis on Jan. 1. It’s the 13th time the NHL has held the Winter Classic.
Through the years, many different former college hockey players have played in the event and I looked back at the ones who put on the most memorable performances. There were a lot to pick through.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
2008: New Hampshire’s Ty Conklin puts on incredible performance to lead Penguins to victory
The 2008 Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins was the NHL’s first installment of the event and it couldn’t have been a better opening act for one of the league’s marquee events.
Everyone remembers Sidney Crosby scoring to win it in the shootout with snow falling all around him, but what got the Penguins in position to win was the play of goalie Ty Conklin.
Conklin stopped 36 of 37 shots to lead the Penguins to a 2-1 win over the Sabres. He came up the biggest in the second period when the Sabres outshot the Penguins, 14-2.
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From 1998-2001, Conklin patrolled the net for UNH. In his three seasons with the program, his most notable award came when he shared Hockey East Player of the Year honors in 2000.
In the other net for this Winter Classic: Ryan Miller. The Michigan State alum stopped 24 of 25 shots, and he was also superb throughout the game. Miller’s most notable collegiate achievement was winning the Hobey Baker Award in 2001 and he holds the record for most shutouts (26) until this year, when Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay broke it.
2009: Wisconsin’s Brian Rafalski posts multi-point game in 6-4 win for Red Wings
The Red Wings and Blackhawks faced off in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. While the previous year’s Winter Classic featured hot goaltending and stingy defense, this one was high-scoring. It still holds the record for the most goals scored in a Winter Classic.
At the heart of many of those goals was Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski. His most memorable moment of the day came when he backhanded the eventual game-winner past Blackhawks goalie Cristobal Huet for one of three points on the day. Rafalski spent four seasons at Wisconsin from 1991-95, with his best coming in his final year when he posted 45 points in 43 games.
Other notable former college hockey player performances that day were goals from Brett Lebda (Notre Dame) and Duncan Keith (Michigan State).
And for the second straight year, the winning goalie was Conklin, who stopped 33 of 37 shots en route to a 6-4 win.
2010: Vermont’s Tim Thomas leads Bruins to thrilling, 2-1 win in OT
When it came to goaltending, Hockey East showed well in the first three years of the Winter Classic.
In the 2010 Winter Classic between the Bruins and the Flyers at historic Fenway Park, it was Bruins goalie Tim Thomas who led the Bruins to a 2-1 OT win, stopping 24 of 25 shots.
Thomas spent four seasons at UVM from 1993-97. His best campaign came in 1995-96, when he posted a 2.34 goals-against average and a record of 26-7-4.
About a year and a half after the 2010 Winter Classic, Thomas came up big once again, leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process, which goes to the most valuable player of the NHL postseason.
2011: Michigan’s Mike Knuble opens the scoring for Capitals
The NHL continued its trend of heated rivalries in 2011, pinning the Capitals and Penguins against each other at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
The Capitals came away with the 3-1 win, and it all started when Mike Knuble stuffed a power-play goal past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to open the scoring for Washington.
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Knuble had a standout career for Michigan, posting 175 points in 157 games over four seasons (1991-95).
2014: Denver’s Tyler Bozak leads Maple Leafs to victory at The Big House
For the first time in Winter Classic history, the NHL chose a collegiate venue in 2014, and this wasn’t just any collegiate venue – this was Michigan Stadium.
The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Red Wings and the Leafs came away with the 3-2 win in the shootout. A big reason why the Maple Leafs came away with the victory was due to forward Tyler Bozak, who tipped in the second Toronto goal of the game and scored the shootout-winner.
Bozak spent two seasons with Denver, potting 57 points in 60 games. He wasn’t the only former college hockey player to post a great day.
Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk scored the first goal of the game for the Maple Leafs. van Riemsdyk spent two seasons at UNH from 2007-09. That goal was assisted by Phil Kessel, who played at Minnesota for a single season in 2005-06.
Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader scored the tying goal for Detroit late in the third period. From 2005-08, he was a Michigan State Spartan, scoring 95 points in 124 games.
And even though he was the losing goaltender, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard stopped 24 of 26 shots to get to the shootout. He spent three seasons at Maine with his most notable season coming in 2003-04, when he led the Black Bears to the national championship game.
The coolest part of this day was the 105,491 fans who packed into The Big House to watch and that’s still the highest attendance at any outdoor NHL game ever.
2015: Vermont’s Patrick Sharp opens the scoring for Blackhawks
While the Blackhawks lost the 2015 Winter Classic, 3-2, to the Capitals at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., forward Patrick Sharp opened the scoring for Chicago with a seeing-eye snipe from the blue line.
Sharp spent two seasons at Vermont from 2000-02. He posted 53 points in 65 games.
Keith, a Michigan State alum, assisted on the goal.
2016: Princeton’s Mike Condon leads Canadiens past Bruins at Gillette Stadium
The Canadiens dominated the Bruins in the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, beating them 5-1.
A large reason as to why was Holliston, Massachusetts native and Canadiens goalie Mike Condon, who stopped 27 of 28 shots en route to the win. Condon spent four seasons (2009-13) at Princeton, with his best year coming in 2012-13 when he posted a 2.48 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty added a goal on that afternoon as well. Pacioretty spent the 2007-08 season at Michigan, registering 39 points in 37 games.
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On the Bruins side of things, the late Jimmy Hayes posted an assist on Boston’s lone goal. Hayes played three seasons at Boston College.
2019: Miami University’s Sean Kuraly scores game-winner for Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium
Five years after choosing a historic college football stadium for the site of a Winter Classic, the NHL did it again in 2019 with Notre Dame Stadium. The Bruins took down the Blackhawks, 3-2, in front of 76,126 fans, which was the third-most ever for an outdoor game in league history.
Bruins forward Sean Kuraly scored the eventual game-winner midway through the third period when he slapped a rebound past Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward and leaped into the glass. From 2012 to 2016, Kuraly spent four seasons with Miami (OH), posting 93 points in 154 games.
Matt Grzelcyk and Chris Wagner – the two players earning assists on that play – also both played college hockey.
Grzelcyk spent four years at Boston University and was the captain for his final two. Wagner spent two seasons at Colgate.
2020: Ben Bishop backstops Stars to win over Predators at The Cotton Bowl
The NHL went right back to historic college football stadiums in 2020, putting the Dallas Stars against the Nashville Predators at The Cotton Bowl.
Dallas won the matchup, 4-2, thanks in large part to Ben Bishop’s sensational play in net. The Maine alum stopped 31 of 33 shots en route to the win.
From 2005-08, Bishop was in net for the Black Bears. His best campaign came in 2006-07 when he posted a 2.14 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Bishop wasn’t the only former college hockey player to have a good day at The Cotton Bowl. Predators defenseman Dante Fabbro scored Nashville’s second goal of the afternoon when he one-timed a shot past Bishop on the power play midway through the first period.
Fabbro played at BU for three seasons from 2016-19.