NHL Winter Classic officially coming to Hockeytown

By Michael Caples and Brian Kalisher -

Press conference at Comerica Park

DETROIT – It’s been speculated and discussed for weeks – if not months. But today, the National Hockey League made it official; the Winter Classic is coming to Michigan.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the 2013 NHL Winter Classic will be played at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, and a second ice rink will be constructed at Comerica Park in Detroit for the inaugural Hockeytown Winter Festival.

“Let me now make it official, the National Hockey League is proud to announce the Detroit Red Wings will host the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic,” Bettman said. “The Red Wings will face the Toronto Maples Leafs – these two Original Six rivals will take this event to a new, record-setting level on Tuesday Jan. 1, 2013.”

“The first meeting of the team from Detroit and the team from Toronto took place on January 4th, 1927.  The Toronto St. Patricks defeated the Detroit Cougars 2-1 at a rink across the river in Windsor, Ontario.

“While the stands in magnificent Comerica Park are vacant today, it is exciting to imagine them as they will be during a very special celebration next winter – and that is they will be full,” Bettman said.

The Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comerica Park will feature the Great Lakes Invitational, OHL games, an AHL game and youth and high school hockey games.  The NHL expects 150,000-200,000 fans will watch live outdoor hockey in Detroit before the Winter Classic.

Then, on Jan. 1, 2013, the Red Wings and Maples Leafs will take their storied rivalry outdoors in what is expected to be a record-setting crowd at ‘The Big House.’

Tom Anastos, new head coach of Michigan State, former commissioner of the CCHA and a leading hockey figure in Michigan expects the weeks of outdoor hockey to be a tremendous experience for the state of Michigan.

“Well, I think it’s terrific from many regards,” Anastos said. The economic impact to our state is needed; the incredible attention that Detroit and the state will get throughout most and all these events will be well-deserved and well-needed.

“Certainly, I think for our sport more than anything, to be able to make this event as far-reaching well beyond just the idea of a single hockey game to reach all the different levels; I think it will really show the whole world the depth of passion for the sport of hockey in this state.”

The Red Wings invade Ann Arbor

ANN ARBOR – Jimmy Howard laughed when he was asked if he had checked out the sightlines he’ll be trying to adjust to when the Red Wings take on the Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.

“I haven’t been down to the crease yet,” the Wings’ goaltender said. “It’s going to be a little bit different playing in such a big stadium. But as far as the rink though, it’s still the same size.”

While the rink is the same size as normal, everything else about the Winter Classic will be just a bit bigger. Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon said he is fully expecting a world record to be broken on Jan. 1, 2013.

“A little over a year ago we set a Guinness Book of World Records in this place,” Brandon said, “drawing 104,173 fans for a hockey game we called the Big Chill at the Big House.  And I know that the NHL intends to break that record with this matchup of Original Six members – the Toronto Maples Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.  And as you all know that will take place on Jan. 1 2013.”

It is sure to be an experience the Red Wings will never forget.

“Every single year when you watch it, you think ‘hopefully one day I get the opportunity to do that,’ because you see all the hype and everything that goes into it,” said Howard, who was still with the Grand Rapids Griffins when the Wings played in the 2009 Winter Classic. “Just being a part of it would be awesome.”

Henrik Zetterberg said it will be extra special to play at ‘The Big House’ – a venue that catches the eyes of Red Wings when they first start living in metro Detroit.

“I think my first year was the first time I went to the Big House to watch a game,” Zetterberg said. “Ever since then you kind of get hooked. Every time you have a chance, especially before the season, just before training camp you try to catch a few games, so it’s pretty cool, the fans are really into it and the whole day is awesome.”

The Wings’ assistant captain said he’s looking forward to his second Winter Classic experience, especially when considering it will be double the size of the first.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Zetterberg said. “We’re really happy to be part of it, especially playing here. We played in Chicago, but this will be double and we’ll have a little bit more fans than we did in Chicago, so it’s going to be cool.”