By ANDREW OMRAN
The Detroit Red Wings are set to host the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2013 Winter Classic on a day which is to shatter hockey’s attendance record.
The NHL’s Winter Classic has gotten bigger each of its five years. It’s only fitting that the next stop for the Jan. 1 outdoor game will be at Michigan Stadium, known by many as “The Big House.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman raised the stakes for the affair, predicting it would top the attendance of previous years when announcing the event.
“These two original six rivals will take the Winter Classic to a new record-setting level,” he said.
The 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic marks the first year that a Canadian-based franchise is taking part in the festivities.
That fact has not been lost on Maple Leafs general manager, Brian Burke, who has already given the game a slogan that is sure to anger any hockey fan outside of the Greater Toronto Area.
“It’s Hockeytown against the centre of the hockey universe,” he said. “We’re real excited; two passionate fan bases. I promise you, there will be a lot of blue in the Big House.”
The matchup will be great for the City of Toronto and will set up the first truly meaningful game for the Maple Leafs, who have not made the playoffs since the 2004 lockout.
Michigan Stadium, which has the highest capacity in North America, is the perfect venue to play the highly anticipated game in and may have been the only one that could even handle the interest that this match will generate.
“The Big House” seats 115,000 people but it is possible that the game will sell out quickly and there won’t be enough tickets available to meet the demand.
Given the history of the two teams, which dates back to the days of the original six, it is always a highly anticipated game when they face off.
The event will also provide the two teams with an opportunity to recognize past hockey legends properly at the Alumni game, which is something the Leafs have not had the chance to do.
The Philadelphia Flyers did a great job of mending past issues with Eric Lindros at the 2012 Alumni game and if executed properly, the Leafs may be able to bring back that lost, treasured history to their city that hasnt seen success in years.
The current attendance record was set at the Big House on Dec. 11, 2010 during a college hockey game when a crowd of 104,173 showed up to see Michigan beat Michigan State, 5-0, in a game known as the “Big Chill.”
If this game beats that number, it will set the new record not only for the largest crowd to watch a hockey game, but the largest crowd to watch anything in this stadium.
Although the Winter Classic is clearly the key event, the City of Detroit has worked with the American Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League to make the event even bigger with side attractions being held at the Detroit Tigers’ baseball stadium, Comerica Park.
There will be an American League hockey game with the Grand Rapid Griffins facing off against the Toronto Marlies and two Ontario Hockey League games involving the four area teams.
The events, which will run for the final two weeks of December, are expected to bring more than 250,000 fans to the downtown area.