Some 68,000 people will file into a football stadium Friday to watch a hockey game, and by the time it’s over nary a one of them will have felt the need to step up to the Fan Services window to register a complaint.

True, many of the seats won’t make for optimum viewing.

Yes, it will get mighty chilly if/when the late-afternoon sun sneaks behind the gathering clouds.

And getting in and out of the parking lots will be a daunting experience to those who usually take the Green Line to North Station for their hockey fix.

But it’s the Winter Classic, which happens to be the single best innovation to hit pro sports since football legalized the forward pass.

This year’s edition, to be played at Gillette Stadium with a 1 p.m. puck drop, features the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens, and, well, come on: These two teams could play in the back room of the Narragansett brewery down in Providence, Rhode Island, and there would be a ton of interest.

But take these two teams outdoors and invite them to play on a sheet of ice on the floor of a football stadium, or an oldtimey baseball park (as the Bruins and Flyers did at Fenway Park six years ago), and it touches something deep down inside all sports fans.

Why is that so? You’ve heard it a million times: It’s an opportunity for hockey to return “to its roots,” and as we speak these words we instantly conjure images of frozen ponds and lakes in Minnesota and Canada, with no helmets and no skyscraper-sized goalie pads but lots and lots of thick, woolen sweaters.

But it’s more than a cliche. Consider that football and baseball were invented on outdoor fields and, to a large degree, are still played on outdoor fields. Basketball was invented in a gym and is still played in gyms, except that in the NBA the gyms have beer, nachos, luxury suites and Jumbotrons.

In the run-up to this year’s Winter Classic, we’ve been privy to dozens of testimonials from old-time hockey players who shared their stories about learning the game on frozen ponds. If you have any kind of hockey soul – even if you didn’t actually play the game – it somehow makes you wish it’d been you out there and back then, clearing away the snow and then dropping the biscuit.

To make my point, I sought the advice of Tommy O’Regan, who grew up a couple of streets from me in Cambridge. Tommy was one of those can’t-miss kids and he lived up to the hype: He played four years for Jack Parker at Boston University, then turned pro and logged parts of three seasons in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He also played parts of three seasons in the American Hockey League, along with 10 seasons in Germany before calling it quits and returning to the Boston area.

But you know what? He’ll always be insanely jealous of the guys who played outdoors.

“There was an outdoor rink over on Route 2, and Belmont Hill had an outdoor rink, but most of my early hockey was at rinks in Somerville and Cambridge,” said O’Regan, now 54. “I remember once we tried to make some ice on the cement in our yard, but that was a disaster.

“When I grew up and played college hockey I’d meet these kids from Minnesota, and they’d all talk about pond hockey,” he said. “I was jealous.”

O’Regan did play some at Little Fresh Pond, but that was on the other side of town, in West Cambridge. Among those who regularly played there back in the day were Bobby Goodwin, 57, a former Malden Catholic High star. Listen to Goodwin talk about his hockey days at Little Fresh: “We’d be out there playing shimmy hockey all morning and all afternoon, until it got dark, even when it was 10 or 15 degrees,” he said. “We’d set up a couple of boots for nets and go at it.”

If you’re lucky enough to be at Gillette Stadium on Friday, you won’t find any boots for nets. Not even any of Tom Brady’s Uggs. But it will be an experience you’ll never forget, and it will be a day for the National Hockey League to shine, even if the sun ducks behind the clouds.

Outdoor professional hockey on a regular basis would not be sustainable, of course. But small doses, as with the Winter Classic, makes it something to be cherished. And, man, do we ever.

Not to mix up our sports terms, but the NHL really hit a home run with this one.