DETROIT – It’s official, next season’s Winter Classic will be at Michigan Stadium and it will pit two Original Six teams – the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Detroit Red Wings won’t officially confirm the deal is in place, but a source within the organization told The Macomb Daily that the deal is finalized.
The game will take place Jan. 1, 2013.
An official announcement will come sometime in early February at Comerica Park and Michigan Stadium after the Wings return him from an extended road trip after the All-Star break. Detroit ends the road trip on Feb. 6 in Phoenix before returning home for six straight games beginning Feb. 8 against Edmonton.
Michigan Stadium, which has a football capacity listed of 109,901, was the site of the Big Chill at The Big House between the Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans in front of a record crowd of 113,411 on Dec. 11, 2010.
The first Winter Classic was played at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium and drew an NHL attendance record of 71,217 for the game between the Sabres and Penguins.
It’ll be a second Winter Classic the Wings will have participated in. They played the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in 2009. The Wings won the game 6-4.
“Anytime you get a chance to play outdoors, I think it’s a great thing,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said last week. “If we could do it in Michigan, it would be great for our fans and great for our franchise, great for our trademark, so a real good thing.”
The source also said the organization originally wanted the game at Comerica Park, but league had a hard time passing up a chance to draw a record crowd over 110,000 to attend the game.
In order to make it work, the league has agreed to setup a second rink at Comerica Park that will host events leading up the Winter Classic. That would include the alumni game, which is normally played the day before, and perhaps the Great Lakes Invitational.
This past GLI had Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Boston College participate with the Wolverines beat the Spartans in overtime.
“It would be really cool (at the Big House), for sure, get the home crowd, too,” Tomas Holmstrom said last week. “It would be awesome to do it one more time, for sure.
“It was a great experience in Chicago,” Holmstrom added. “To celebrate New Year’s and the family was there in Chicago. It was the perfect day for it, too. It was fun the day before, the families were there. We skated outside. It was really good. And we came up with a win, too. But it was a great experience, something you’ll remember the rest of your life.”
Holmstrom is one of 11 current Red Wings that took part in 2009 game at Wrigley Stadium.
Backup goalie Ty Conklin has played in three different outdoor games for three different teams.
Conklin played in the Heritage Classic in 2003 with Edmonton. It was the first regular season outdoor game in NHL history. He followed that with starts between the pipes for Pittsburgh in the 2008 Winter Classic and then was the Wings’ netminder in 2009.
“It would be a lot of fun to be able to play in one,” Jimmy Howard said. “Growing up, you skate on lakes and outdoor rinks, to be able to play an actual game (outdoors) would be a lot of fun.”
The Flyers hosted the New York Rangers at this season’s game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
In 2011, the Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
In 2010, the Bruins hosted the Flyers at Fenway Park in Boston.
This will also be the first Winter Classic that has a team from Canada participating. Canada has hosted two Heritage Classics (2003 and 2011).
Rookie Joakim Andersson played in the first outdoor game in Sweden, the 2009 SEL Outdoor Classic in front of a crowd of 31,144, which at the time set an attendance record for a European game.
“It was the year before I came over, it was fun,” Andersson said. “It was a special feeling to play outside with a large crowd. It was pretty cool. It was an unbelievable game. I kind of had goose bumps at the start.”