- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

One of the worst-kept secrets over the past several months has been where the Washington Capitals will host the Winter Classic, and on Wednesday, the annual outdoor game was given a home.

The Capitals and the NHL jointly announced that the game will be held at Nationals Park on Jan. 1, cementing the venue nine months after Washington was originally awarded the right to host the game and three months after the Chicago Blackhawks were named as the opponent.

“The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic has made New Year’s Day a highlight of the season for NHL fans everywhere,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press release. “Nationals Park provides an ideal setting for all the excitement, entertainment and fun as the Blackhawks and Capitals bring our outdoor tradition to historic Washington, D.C.”

As the announcement dragged on, a variety of alternative venues had been paraded through the media. FedEx Field became no longer feasible in April when the NFL announced its schedule and gave the Redskins a Dec. 28 home game.

Three other large-capacity outdoor stadia in the area — RFK Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium — were raised as possibilities. Even the National Mall, which would have posed an idyllic backdrop but likely significantly limited attendance, was also speculated upon.

Though an exact reason for the lengthy delay remains unclear, the District has the final say in approving all events held at the stadium, according to the terms of the 30-year lease the Nationals signed in 2005.

And, when Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park hosted the Winter Classic in 2012, it wasn’t until late September that the venue was announced even though the Flyers were awarded the game that spring.

“We are thrilled the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be played at Nationals Park as we welcome the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans to our nation’s capital,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said in the statement. “We are delighted the D.C. area and our great fan base will have an opportunity to experience the Winter Classic, and we know that Nationals Park will provide an incredible backdrop for the game.”

Nationals Park seats 41,408 for baseball, though more than 3,300 additional seats were made available when the game was played in Philadelphia.

The Winter Classic was first played in 2008, when Buffalo hosted Pittsburgh at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was not played in 2013 because the owners’ lockout canceled the season.

Washington defeated Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field in 2011, while Chicago lost to Detroit when it hosted the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in 2009.

The Capitals begin training camp on Sept. 19 and will play their first preseason game on Sept. 21.

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