Still waiting on official confirmation of yesterday's report that the 2009 Winter Classic will be held in Wrigley Field between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, there's another encouraging development that indicates the NHL is ready to make the Winter Classic an annual event: The League has purchased a portable ice rink.
The purchase came immediately after the league's board of governors approved a budget for next year that set aside money for a portable ice rink. The cost of the rink is expected to be in the high six figures.
"We view the rink setup as multifunctional. It can be used not only for Winter Classic games but for rink placements in other outdoor settings (for instance at the All-Star Game), as well as non-hockey venues," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an e-mail. "It will cut down significantly the preparation time needed to build a rink, and would have been invaluable had we had it available to us in Buffalo last January."
Daly added that the league also could rent out the portable rink to third parties such as USA Hockey, the American Hockey League and others. "I suspect each year may be a little different," Daly wrote, "but we definitely feel the use of the rink will not be limited exclusively to the Winter Classic."
The league has not made an official announcement about an outdoor game in 2008-09, but it has long been rumored that one will be played in Chicago between the Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. "I would bet on the Midwest, but a deal isn't done," Commissioner Gary Bettman told a group of sponsorship executives in Toronto last month.
According to SBJ, the new rink differs from the rink used in Ralph Wilson Stadium for the inaugural Winter Classic, which was "a mat-based system that used plastic tubing and piping covered by sand." This portable rink features an aluminum system used in traveling ice skating shows. It can also be set-up and broken down more quickly than the one in Buffalo, which could increase the chances for some of the more exotic locations for future Classics.
Also encouraging is the notion that the Winter Classic format could trickle down to the AHL where -- just tossing this out there -- the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Providence Bruins could battle in the elements in an outdoor game. Which would be cool.
There's a legitimate concern from some that there can be too much of a good thing, and that frequently staged Winter Classics could lead to decreased interest in the games. But "NHL" and "a good thing" happen about as often as Haley's Comet, so let's deal with the malaise when it actually hits. Until then: Winter Classics are go!