DETROIT – It may be a year late, but the Winter Classic will indeed be coming to the Big House in Ann Arbor on New Year’s Day.
The league made it official Sunday morning prior to the Wings’ game against the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena.
The game, which will still take place between Original Six rivals Detroit and the Toronto Maple Leafs, was originally scheduled to be played this year, but an extended NHL lockout cancelled all planned Winter Classic festivities.
“We expected to play it this year, but we didn’t,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “I think when we come back after the summer there will probably be a lot of hype about it again.
“I just remember how I felt when they announced it,” Zetterberg continued. “When I went to the Big House (last year) and went on the field for the press conference there. It was real exciting. It will be a great game and it will be a division game now as well. So it’s a big game with a lot of people and it will be a lot of fun.”
The Wings and Leafs will indeed be division rivals next year when the game is played after Detroit moves to the Eastern Conference once this season ends.
“It’s going to be different because last time was probably the only time we would have faced each other,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “Moving to the East next year, we’re going to see them a lot, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more meaning to that game.”
A crowd of at least 105,000 is expected, which would stand as the world record for attendance at a hockey game.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was joined at Sunday’s announcement by Wings general manager Ken Holland, Maple Leafs president Tom Anselmi, along with former Wings Kris Draper and Mickey Redmond. Toronto alumni Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Wendel Clark were also there.
The Winter Classic’s festivities might include two alumni games on New Year’s Eve at Comerica Park in Detroit, along with American Hockey League, college, high school and youth hockey games over a two-week period leading up to the Winter Classic.
No Wings have formally committed for next year’s game, but Holland said the club is hoping their alumni team will include the Russian Five – Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov, — along with Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom.
“The Winter Classic has been outstanding but it seems the alumni game has picked up steam here over the last couple of years with alumni wanting to be involved in it,” Draper said. “It’s special to be able to do it in downtown Detroit.”
The league also unveiled the jerseys that will be worn.
“They’re pretty cool and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to wear them,” Howard said. “They’re different. It’s red, but instead of the white, it’s an off-white color numbers and lettering. It has that older style look to it.”
“I like it,” Zetterberg said. “Of course it’s different than what we usually wear, but I saw (Pavel) Dastyuk wearing it and he looked really good. It’s pretty cool.
“I’ll say they look old school,” Zetterberg added. “They’re an older kind of jersey. It’s still the winged wheel, but it looks different. Same red, but I only saw it once a couple of days ago.”
This will be the sixth time the Winter Classic has been played and second time the Wings have played in one.
Detroit faced the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009 at Wrigley Field before a crowd of 40,818. The Wings beat their hosts 6-4.
This will be Toronto’s first Winter Classic.
The HBO series “24/7” will also follow both teams as it leads up to the Winter Classic, airing in December.