NHL confident Winter Classic in Minneapolis will go on, despite COVID-19 worries

Crews at work at Target Field for the Winter Classic. (FOX 9)

As the new variant cancels some professional sports contests, the NHL expects the Winter Classic planned for New Year's Day in Minneapolis to go on without a hitch.

Target Field is set to hold the annual outdoors game that has become an annual tradition for hockey fans. This year's match will be the 13th game.

Ahead of the game, two former Wild players with six professional outdoor games between them, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Carter, talked about the magic of outdoor hockey.

Both men played in the 2016 stadium series game at the University of Minnesota. The weather is always a memorable element but there’s so much more.

"One of my favorite pictures of playing is I had the eye black on, I was missing a tooth and I got a daughter in each arm post-game, right!" recalled Carter. "It’s an event that you share not just with your teammates but your family."

But with ten days to go and so much work put into this one event, already been postponed a year due to COVID-19. The pandemic looms again. The NHL is pausing Wednesday because of multiple outbreaks across the league.

Carter is optimistic that break helps this game happen, and the extra days are very welcome.

"I do think this is a game that players circle and want to play, but at least the guys in the Minnesota locker room," said Carter. "I can’t speak for them, but I think that they probably don’t have an issue having a little extra rest going into this one to make sure that they’re ready!"

Vanek played in the first Winter Classic in ’08 knows firsthand this is a marquee event. This is why the league and players say they’re taking every possible precaution to protect it.

"So I think just everything that comes with the game, how excited the fans are, how cold it is, and they’re still screaming and yelling and enjoying their time, I think it just makes it special for the players," said Vanek.