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Hockey Winter Classic draws huge ratings on both sides of the border

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) tries to settle the puck for a shot against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) in the second period during the 2014 Winter Classic hockey game at Michigan Stadium.

Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports

The NHL may want to consider including a Canadian team in every Winter Classic, after this year's New Year's Day matchup attracted record ratings in Canada and a near record in the U.S.

On Friday, the CBC said 3.57 million viewers tuned in to its broadcast of the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings game in Ann Arbor, Mich., which ended in a shootout win by the Leafs. That is almost 90-per-cent higher than the previous Winter Classic record of 1.91 million viewers, set during Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011, which had the advantage of airing in prime time after poor weather forced the postponement of the afternoon-scheduled game.

It is also the largest Canadian audience to watch a regular-season NHL game, with 8.75 million viewers tuning in to some portion of the broadcast. The audience peaked at more than 5.3 million at the start of the third round of the shootout, suggesting tune-ins may have been spurred by people sharing news of the game over social media.

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The French-language telecast on RDS attracted an additional 260,000 viewers.

This year's Winter Classic was the first to include a Canadian team since the annual event was created in 2008. There was no game last year, due to the player lockout. The ratings topped the 3.4 million viewers who tuned in to CBC for the final game of last year's Stanley Cup final (Chicago Blackhawks-Boston Bruins).

The U.S. broadcast was a blockbuster, too – at least in American terms – with 4.4 million viewers tuning in, which NBC said made it the second-most-watched regular-season NHL game since 1975.

"Today is yet another milestone in the NHL Winter Classic's short but illustrious history," Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports, said in a statement.

In 2011, NBC signed a 10-year deal for U.S. broadcast rights to NHL games.

Canadian viewers were briefly treated to an international broadcast after the CBC lost its feed from Michigan Stadium in the dying minutes of the third period. On Friday, the network said it could not yet provide a full explanation of what had gone wrong.

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