It’s been a hectic end to the calendar year for the National Hockey League. Looking to kick things off on a positive note in the new year, January 1st will welcome an annual tradition that has become a staple in the NHL. Wiping the slate clean for a fresh start, the 2022 NHL Discover Winter Classic is set to take place at Minnesota’s Target Field. As the tradition entails, fans will be treated to a marquee contest between Minnesota Wild, who were sitting atop the Central division until just this past Wednesday, and the St. Louis Blues, who are the team responsible for jumping ahead of the Wild. From the battle for the division to the weather, it is clear that the 2022 Winter Classic is going to be one for the ages.
A battle for the top of the standings
Entering the Holiday break, the Minnesota Wild were comfortably seated atop the league’s Central Division. Despite going 0-0-1 in their last four contests, the Wild have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams. Their last four games serve as an outlier, as the team recorded eight straight wins before the four-game skid, while leading the division with 19 victories. While the Wild entered the break leading the Central, upon their return, they had multiple games postponed due to COVID-19. This has given their Winter Classic opponent and rival in St. Louis the opportunity they needed to overtake Minnesota in the standings.
A victory over the Edmonton Oilers pushed the Blues to the top spot in the Division with 41 points. Their lead over the Wild is minimal, as Minnesota sits just one point back and have two games in hand. The Winter Classic will serve as a battle for the top of the Central, as the Blues look to increase their gap over the hometown Wild. On the other hand, their opponents look to leap back into first, while also having a pair of games in hand in their back pocket as well.
Minnesota’s extended break
The Wild will be looking to use their home field advantage and support from their faithful fans to help shake off the rust entering the outdoor contest. The Winter Classic in the Twin Cities will be Minnesota’s first game since before the holiday break. To find their last game, you have to look all the way back to December 20th when the Wild squared off against the Dallas Stars. The Wild fell 7-4 to the Stars, which saw them pick up just one point in their last four games following an eight-game win streak before the extended break.
The Wild have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams all season long and are looking to bounce back from their last four-game stretch and get back in the win column, and there’s no better place to do that then at home in front of their fans at the yearly annual classic.
Tarasenko’s Hot Streak And Winter Classic History
If you’re looking for a healthy bet to find his name on the scoresheet, look no further than Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian sniper has been playing some of his best hockey to date in his first full season since recovering from a shoulder injury. In 32 games this season, the Blues forward is playing at a point-per-game pace, having amassed 32 points on 13 goals and 19 assists so far this season. Tarasenko has been especially hot as of late, even with the holiday break. In his last four contests, Tarasenko has nine points, including a three-point performance in their first game back against the Edmonton Oilers. One of his three points included the game-winning goal.
For Vladmir Tarasenko, 2022 marks his second chance to take part in the annual NHL Winter Classic. If 2017 taught us anything, it was just how lethal the Russian Sniper can be. At the 2017 Winter Classic, the St. Louis Blues played host to the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago scored just over a minute into the game, but the Blues came back to the game midway through the second. Entering the final frame of a tightly knit game, a then 25-year-old Tarasenko took control of the affair.
He scored two goals in just under two minutes midway through the third, which won the Blues the Winter Classic. 2016-17 was arguably his best individual season to date, and this year, playing some of his best hockey, could we see Tarasenko pull off a similar performance to his first Winter Classic?
Hartman’s Second Time Playing The Blues Outdoors
Long before Ryan Hartman became a member of the Minnesota Wild, he dawned the sweater of the Chicago Blackhawks. Hartman was drafted by Chicago in the first round (30th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He was apart of the Blackhawks organization (NHL and AHL) for four seasons and became a full-time NHL player in 2016-17. During his rookie year, Hartman got the chance to take part in the 2017 Winter Classic against the St. Louis Blues. Now a member of the Minnesota Wild, Hartman will once again take part in the Annual New Years Tradition playing against that very same team.
As a rookie playing in a game of that magnitude, Hartman recorded 15:12 of ice time, but was unfortunately -2, while also being sent to the penalty box twice. This time around, playing arguably his best hockey to date, Hartman is set to have an even larger role and is one of the few Wild players who know the pressure of playing outdoor hockey on New Years Day.
Extreme Cold Warning
Perhaps the most challenging factor ahead of the Winter Classic might be what makes the game so special. The Winter Classic brings about a nostalgia of growing up playing pond hockey for both the players and the fans. For anyone who has ever played hockey outdoors, there have surely been some cold skates in the books. For the Blues and Wild players, January 1st will likely be one of the coldest games that many of the players have ever competed in. It is set to be the coldest Outdoor NHL game on record, with a high of -13 and a low of approximately -22 degrees celsius. As such, to keep the players and nearly 40,000 fans in attendance comfortable, the NHL has announced that they will be heating the ice to make sure that the players will be able to perform to their very best.