Ivy and Bleacher Bums

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

CHICAGO -- The fabled Wrigley Bleacher Bums will be stuffed into the outfield stands while the famous creeping ivy will blanket the nearby wall.

Yup, tomorrow's highly anticipated Winter Classic between the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings and the hometown Chicago Blackhawks stands to have the same type of electric feel of a Chicago Cubs home game.

With a few alterations, of course.

While the Bums likely will be sporting longjohns instead of their trademark shorts, it being January and all, don't bet against a few juiced-up ones going shirtless by the third period despite any icy winds howling off nearby Lake Michigan.

All in the spirit of the occasion.

As for the ivy, well, the vivid green vegetation you'll see on the makeshift outfield barrier tomorrow is, in fact, artificial. There's only so much the league can do. After all, it's the middle of winter.

No matter. At least organizers have tried to recreate the Wrigley Field experience, turning one of baseball's fields of dreams into, in hockey terms, a sheet of dreams.

While cynics north of the border claim the concept of these outdoor games might be getting old, this is a big deal here in the Windy City, where hockey once again matters.

Calling it "the biggest Hawks game this city has seen in a very long time," one columnist in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times took it a step further by referring to tomorrow's Rumble at Wrigley as "the NHL's Super Bowl."

It's a concept John Collins, the NHL's Chief Operating Officer, can relate to.

Collins has a deep background in the National Football League, having served as the league's senior vice-president of marketing and sales. He also had a stint as the VP and president of the Cleveland Browns.

Collins is warm to the concept of the Winter Classic turning into a "mini Super Bowl," at least from the standpoint of an event that attracts the attention of fans from all over, no matter which teams are involved.

To this point, the league does not have such an event. Maybe the all-star game used to be one, but we prefer to see no-hitters in baseball, not hockey, thank you very much.

And you can't argue with the success of the Winter Classic concept. For a sport thirsting for any exposure it can grab in the U.S., the fact that tomorrow's game will be broadcast live across North America by NBC, smack dab in the middle of college football's Bowl season and just before the kickoff of the NFL playoffs, is a slam dunk winfall for the NHL.

If you want to promote the sport here in the land of Obama, this is the way to do it. And it appears the league is thinking well beyond the Winter Classic, too.

According to a league source, the NHL seriously is considering holding its annual awards ceremony in glitzy and glamourous Las Vegas as early as this year with the hopes that, like the Winter Classic, it could turn into a signature event. The league already is moving forward on that front, having held discussions with the Palms Casino and Resort about hosting the swank affair.

The date is said to be the final haggling point, with the league believed to be looking at a time after the June 25-27 entry draft in order to attract more attention. In previous years the event, primarily held in Toronto, was shoehorned between the conclusion of the Stanley Cup final and the draft.

Interestingly, in the NHL's official guide and record book, the date for the the awards gala is listed as "To Be Announced."

Coincidence? We think not.

In the meantime, the demand for ducats for tomorrow's game has left the league tickled.

"While there will be 41,000 people in the stands, about 240,000 people registered to get a shot at tickets for this event," a pleased Collins said yesterday.

First Wrigley, then Vegas.

Whether you agree with the league's ideas or not, give the NHL credit for thinking outside the lines.

Or, in this instance, the boards.


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