That the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs would meet in The Big House at the University of Michigan for the 2013 NHL Winter Classic was common knowledge for about the last month. The NHL's press conference announcing it and other details of the Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comerica Park on Thursday was a mere formality.
The real intrigue: What the NHL's expectations were for attendance. There's no other reason to hold the Winter Classic at a site like the University of Michigan, which offered challenges ranging from rental fees to alcohol licenses, except to set some attendance marks.
The current record for attendance at a hockey game is 113,411 announced (104,173 certified by Guinness World Records) on Dec. 11, 2010 between Michigan and Michigan State.
NHL Commission Gary Bettman on Thursday predicted the 2013 Winter Classic would be on pace to shatter that record.
"Even with 115,000 or more tickets available, we still won't have enough to satisfy the demand.
"The first meeting between a team from Detroit and a team from Toronto took place on Jan. 4, 1927. The Toronto Saint Patricks defeated the Detroit Cougars, 2-1, at a rink across the river in Windsor, Ont. When that game was played, the Big House was under construction. It opened Oct. 1 of that year, with a capacity of 72,000 — a capacity that's grown to over 110,000 today.
"A capacity we expect to challenge, and surpass, when the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs resume their historic rivalry."
MLSE Executive Vice President and COO Tom Anselmi later said he expected "120,000 Leafs and Red Wings fans" would be part of the Winter Classic.
For anyone wondering if the bloom's off the Winter Classic rose as far as hype and attention from casual viewers, "SEE A WORLD ATTENDANCE RECORD SHATTERED" is a pretty easy sell.
Or as GM Brian Burke said: "It's Hockeytown vs. The Centre of the Hockey Universe."
The full release from the NHL:
NEW YORK (February 9, 2012) — The Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium on the University of Michigan campus in the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® on Tuesday, Jan. 1, the National Hockey League announced today. Nicknamed "The Big House," the stadium is the largest in North America. It is anticipated that the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® could set an all-time world attendance record for a hockey game. The game will be broadcast live on NBC in the U.S. and on CBC and RDS in Canada.
"The Red Wings' tradition of excellence, Detroit's passion for hockey and the glorious history of the Maple Leafs create a Winter Classic scenario for the ages," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "The meeting of these two 'Original Six' rivals, at this iconic venue, will lift this Winter Classic to incomparable heights. The demand to be there will be so great that this event could only be held at 'The Big House.'"
In concert with the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic®, beginning in mid-December Comerica Park in downtown Detroit will be home to a celebration of hockey titled the Hockeytown Winter Festival™. The main attraction of the festival will be an ice rink built on the Comerica Park field where a special game between notable Red Wings and Maple Leafs alumni — the NHL Alumni Showdown — will be played.
The outdoor rink at Comerica Park will feature games between teams representing every level of hockey and opportunities for open skating for the public. Over a quarter of a million fans are expected to watch youth games, high school hockey games, sled hockey games, AHL games, OHL games and more. The Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Red Wings, will play the Toronto Marlies, the AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs, on the Comerica Park rink. For the first time in its history, the Great Lakes Invitational will be played outdoors as Michigan Tech, the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Western Michigan University will be part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival. Also, the ballpark will host two OHL matchups: the Windsor Spitfires vs. Saginaw Spirit and the Plymouth Whalers vs. London Knights.
"Mike and Marian Ilitch are deeply committed to their beloved Detroit. That commitment has never wavered," Commissioner Bettman added. "The Hockeytown Winter Festival is just the latest example of their passion for their city and for hockey."
The 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® continues the tradition the NHL® has established of hosting a regular-season game outdoors at the onset of the new year to celebrate the origin and traditions of hockey. This season in Philadelphia, both the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® between the Flyers and New York Rangers and the alumni game two days prior attracted sellout crowds. More than 100,000 fans visited Spectator Plaza, the official outdoor hockey festival adjacent to the ballpark.
Further details on the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic®, including the official event logo, ticketing information and uniform design for each team, will be released in the coming months. Fans can visit www.NHL.com/winterclassic and www.Detroitredwings.com/2013winterclassic for the latest news.
Our only question: Can a fan hit the Winter Classic rink in the Big House with an octopus? Or, as our buddy Erin Nicks suggested, perhaps one needs to be parachuted in...
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