The Winter Classic brings NHL hockey back to the Hoosier State

Andrew Smith takes a historical look at NHL hockey in Indiana

Jan 1, 2019

By Andrew Smith – ​​​​​​​ The hockey world is turning its eyes toward Indiana as the calendar turns to 2019, with Notre Dame Stadium hosting the NHL’s Winter Classic. The Indy Fuel’s NHL affiliate, the Chicago Blackhawks, face the Boston Bruins in a matchup between two of hockey’s most storied franchises.    


The Fuel will be represented in the game by Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia, who made his professional hockey debut with the Fuel on Opening Night 2017 and played 10 games for Indy. By season’s end, he made two starts for the Blackhawks, winning his NHL debut. This season, Delia is 3-0 with a 1.66 GAA since being recalled from Rockford. 


While this year’s Winter Classic will be the largest-attended hockey game ever to be played in Indiana, it won’t be the first time an NHL regular season game has been played in the state. 


In fact, it will be the sixth, with the first four taking place at what is now the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, the Indy Fuel’s home rink. 


On Dec. 6, 1952, the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings played the first-ever NHL game in Indiana. It was first regular-season game to be played outside of one team’s home city in 22 years. It matched the top two teams in the NHL standings on that date.


The rink, then known as the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, was without a full-time hockey team for the first time since it opened in 1939. The American Hockey League’s Capitals had suspended operations shortly before the season was to begin.


Detroit won the game 2-0, with Reggie Sinclair scoring the first NHL goal in Indiana at 16:29 of the first period, assisted by future Hall of Famers Alex Delvecchio and Marcel Pronovost. Johnny Wilson, who had played for the Capitals, scored the second goal. Wilson, Delvecchio and Pronovost had all played for the Capitals, as did Detroit’s Terry Sawchuk, who had the shutout. Sawchuk backstopped the Caps to the 1950 Calder Cup championship. Three other future Hall of Famers, Red Kelly, Ted Lindsay and “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe, played for Detroit that day. 


While the Capitals had been a Red Wings farm club, a number of former Caps suited up for the Blackhawks – Fred Glover, Gerry Couture, Lee Fogolin, Al Dewsbury and future Hall of Famer Sid Abel. 


The Blackhawks would return to Indy three times in the 1953-54 season. On Dec. 18, 1953, the Red Wings again beat the Hawks 3-1. Tony Leswick and Howe gave Detroit a 2-0 lead. Jimmy Peters scored for Chicago in the second to cut Detroit’s lead to one, but Lindsay answered with an unassisted goal for his second point of the night.


Sawchuk again played goal for Detroit. He would later lead the Wings to a Stanley Cup title that season. 


On Jan. 21, 1954, the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to the Boston Bruins. Peters and former Capital Gerry Couture scored goals 2:12 apart in the third to tie the game at 2-2, but Boston’s Joe Klukay won it with his second goal of the game 58 seconds later.


Another former Capital, “Sugar Jim” Henry, was the winning goalie for Boston, facing Al Rollins. The Hawks returned a month later on Feb. 19, but were shut out by Johnny Bower and the New York Rangers 3-0. Nick Mickoski scored twice for the Rangers. In addition to Bower, future Hall of Famer Harry Howell played in that contest for the Rangers. 


The four games in Indy kicked off a span of traveling for the Blackhawks. They would play 15 more home games at neutral sites around the Midwest – 11 in St. Louis, three in Omaha, Nebraska and one in St. Paul, Minnesota – over the next two seasons, establishing themselves as a regional franchise. 


In 1992, the NHL began a two-year experiment of neutral site games, with each team playing two games a year at non-NHL arenas. One of those was Nov. 3, 1992, when the Blackhawks met the Washington Capitals at Market Square Arena. While the Capitals were the home team, the crowd of 8,792 was decidedly pro-Blackhawks, as the Hawks’ roster featured a number of players from their top minor league affiliate, the Indianapolis Ice.  


Washington scored on two of its first four shots, with Keith Jones scoring his first NHL goal 91 seconds into the game. Jones now works as an analyst with NBC. A goal at 2:25 by Paul MacDermid chased Hawks’ starter Ed Belfour. Jimmy Waite, who had been a fan favorite with the Indianapolis Ice, relieved Belfour and stopped 19 of 21 shots. Jones would later add assists on goals by Peter Bondra and Sylvain Cote in a 4-1 Washington win. 


The game’s final goal came off the stick of the Blackhawks’ Stephane Matteau, who scored on assists from Rob Brown and Chris Chelios at 10:04 of the third period. That has stood for 28 years as the most recent NHL tally to be scored in a game played in the Hoosier state. But not for long. 



The Blackhawks and Bruins have a number of connections to Indy. Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite played 217 games over six seasons for the Indianapolis Ice of the old International Hockey League from 1989-97. Waite led the Ice to the 1990 Turner Cup title. 


One of the Ice’s top defensemen that season was Bruce Cassidy, who is in his second full season as the Bruins’ head coach. Cassidy returns to Indiana, where he played 170 games for the Ice in 1989-90 and again from 1994-96. He returned in 1998-99 to coach the team in its final IHL season, leading the team to its first playoff series victory since the championship nine seasons before. Two of the Bruins’ players – defenseman Torey Krug and forward Sean Kuraly – played junior hockey and attended high school in Indy. 


Another Hoosier connection will be heard by fans watching the game on TV. Mike

“Doc” Emrick, the longtime voice of hockey in the U.S., is a native of LaFontaine, Indiana and a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. 

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