The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres will play the 2018 Winter Classic at Citi Field on Jan. 1, the NHL announced Tuesday. Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed the official matchup, which had been reported months ago, on NBCSN during intermission of Game 6 between the Rangers and Senators.
This is the fourth outdoor game for the Rangers and the second for the Sabres. It’s the first time that the two teams will play each other outdoors and the first time that the NHL has visited Citi Field since it opened in 2009.
The last time the Rangers played outdoors was in 2014 at Yankee Stadium, where they played a pair of games against the Devils and Islanders. The Sabres were part of the first-ever Winter Classic, against the Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium (now known as New Era Field) on Jan. 1, 2008, but this will be their first appearance since then.
Part of what presumably motivated the NHL to go back to Buffalo is the presence of young star Jack Eichel. The former No. 2 overall pick is coming off a strong sophomore year and could be positioned to emerge as one of the league’s premier scorers in 2017-18. If he’s in the midst of a big year, the Winter Classic will be the perfect chance for the NHL to give him a little extra marketing push as one of the next big faces of hockey.
The Rangers don’t have a young star like Eichel, but they provide the biggest market in the United States and a team that’s regularly competitive. If the Sabres can take a step forward next season with a young team, this should be an entertaining matchup for a national audience on New Year’s Day.