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First outdoor NHL game played in U.S. draws big TV numbers down south

NEW YORK - More people in the U.S. tuned in on New Year's Day to see the NHL play outdoors than any other regular-season game in more than a decade.

The Penguins-Sabres game in snowy Buffalo - the first regular-season outdoor NHL game in the United States - drew a 2.6 overnight rating and a 5 share on NBC. Those were the best numbers since a six-game regional telecast on Fox drew a 3.0 overnight rating and a 7 share on Feb. 3, 1996.

Pittsburgh won 2-1 in a shootout on a Sidney Crosby's score before a crowd of more than 71,000 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

CBC's ratings weren't available Wednesday.

The big U.S. numbers, in the stands and on TV, came three years after the NHL lockout forced the cancellation of an entire season and after last season's Stanley Cup finals on NBC drew record-low ratings.

"We're delighted by the success of this historic event," NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said. "The Winter Classic exposed hockey to a larger audience and definitely made new fans of the game."

The Winter Classic ratings also surpassed Wayne Gretzky's final game, which was broadcast on Fox on April 18, 1999, and drew a 2.5/6.

The Buffalo and Pittsburgh markets led the ratings, at 38.2/58 and 17.7/30, respectively. But markets such as Sacramento, Calif., St. Louis and Denver also drew strong ratings, even though the game went up against a number of college football bowl games, including an intriguing Capital One Bowl between Florida and Michigan.

"This was one of the best events I've ever been a part of as a player, coach or broadcaster," NBC game analyst Eddie Olczyk said. "It truly was a memorable experience and a great day for the sport of hockey."

Overnight ratings measure the 55 largest TV markets in the United States, and each ratings point represents about 735,000 households. The rating is the percentage watching a telecast among homes with televisions, and the share is the percentage tuned into a broadcast among those households with televisions on at the time.

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