By Barry Janoff
Feb. 10, 2012: The NHL has confirmed its worst kept secret of the year (to date): The 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be played at the home of the University of Michigan's football team in Ann Arbor, aka the "Big House," between "Original Six" rivals the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The game will return to its New Year's Day slot, Jan. 1, 2013, after being moved to Jan. 2 this year to avoid conflict with the NFL on Sunday, Jan. 1. The game will be televised by NBC, CBC and RDS.
The venue seats upwards of 115,000 and, if filled, would set a new hockey record. The current record occurred at the Big House on Dec. 11, 2010, when Michigan beat Michigan State, 5-0, before an announced crowd of 104,173.
"These two Original Six rivals will take the Winter Classic to a new record-setting level," Commissioner Gary Bettman said during a media conference on Thursday at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. "Since this game is going to be so big, it could only be played in one place. Even with 115,000 tickets available, we won't have enough tickets to meet demand."
"The Winter Classic has become a phenomenal event," Bettman said. "It's one of the major events on the sports landscape." — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
According to Bettman, "We didn't throw darts to put this together. We knew we were dealing with a great rivalry, two great fan bases, great organizations and ownership.
The NHL is changing tactics with this game by putting the Hockeytown Winter Festival, a week-long celebration, at Comerica Park.
"We had a discussion about it," said Bettman. "We wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing for the City of Detroit. With the number of events and everything else, and setting up two rinks and handling this logistically — that's a huge undertaking in terms of manpower and expense. But we we're committed because the Ilitches [owners of the Red Wings and Tigers] were committed to making sure that, as hosts, Detroit was going to be properly included. And we're doing it in a big way.
"The Winter Classic has become a phenomenal event," Bettman said. "It's one of the major events on the sports landscape and we thought we took it to the point where this event made sense. We're now going to take it to another level in terms of scale."