February 8, 2012
Wings, Leafs set for 2013 Winter Classic
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - About four months ago, NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins called Richard Peddie, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, to see if the Leafs wanted to play the Red Wings on New Year’s Day in front of the biggest hockey crowd in NHL history.
The quick response time was a record-breaker alone.
“I said absolutely, but wanted to run it by Brian Burke to make sure the team was cool with it,” Peddie said Wednesday. “Of course Brian was. I just asked that the league make sure our Leaf season seat holders and our wait-list get a first crack at tickets.”
The details will come out Thursday in two press conferences to be held at the 110,000-seat Big House at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Comerica Park in nearby Detroit, where the alumni game will be held. While Original Six rivals such as the Rangers, Bruins, Blackhawks and Canadiens have been part of outdoor games already and Calgary and Edmonton have hosted in Canada, the Leafs have been watching with envy.
There was no suitable venue in the GTA, but the Wings had the Big House in their sights, where an announced crowd of 113,411 (104,173 certified) watched The Big Chill in December between Michigan and Michigan State. The latter figure is the one the NHL wants to beat and inviting ‘Canada’s team’ should do it.
“The Big House is going to be a massive sea of blue,” predicted Peddie, who is a Windsor, Ont., native and expects fans from both teams will pack the stands.
The deal could not be completed until the U of M’s board of regents approved the contract on Wednesday, which could mean up to $3 million for the school from the league when it leases the facility for a month leading up to the game. A major hold-up was that the stadium is not licensed to serve liquor, which will be approved for the game.
Wings and Detroit Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch wanted both games to be at Comerica, but the alumni game will still do well at the baseball stadium which seats 41,000 at present.
“I know the NHL is hell-bent to break the record we set at the Big Chill,” U of M athletic director Dave Brandon told the Detroit News. “I hope they do, because then we’re going to come back and have another hockey game and break their record.”
Brandon said the event could generate more than the $14 million US for the region that is provided by home Michigan football games.
On top of the league making good money from the event, the host team is usually reimbursed for its lost gate and the visitors get something for participating, as well as the continent-wide exposure.
The Leafs Alumni Association, which numbers around 200, was ecstatic to hear their game against the Wings is a go, but must now sort through a long list of potential players.
“Think of the roster we’d have at our disposal,” past president Mark Osborne said. “Start with the no-brainers such as Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark. But we’d want to do it right like the Flyers just did in their game. We’d want some recognizable names from the 1970s, such as Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams.
“There are different generations and you want to have a good game for people to watch. It’s a fine line. I know Darryl (now aged 61) might have trouble with his knee and might not want to chase Steve Yzerman up the ice.”
Osborne is waiting to hear how any profits might be divided between the league and the oldtimers.
“I’m also a Ranger alumnus and they do a good job and I’m sure our Leaf guys will be looked after by the club.”
CHUCK THE WEATHERMAN OPTIMISTIC
“Comfortable” is how WIVB TV weatherman Chuck Gaidica would cautiously expect the 2013 New Year’s Day forecast for the Detroit—Ann Arbor area to be.
But Channel 4’s lead meteorologist wouldn’t advise leaving home without gloves and hat for the Winter Classic.
“The average temperature in the Detroit area in January is a high of 33F and a low of 20,” Gaidica said Wednesday. “Ann Arbor (45 miles west) tends to be colder because it’s away from the heat island of big buildings and parking lots.”
The high in the past three New Year’s Days around Motown has been as warm as 53F and as low as 25, with a record dip of minus-7 in 1968.
“It’s a bit like Toronto, winter doesn’t kick in until after Christmas and we might get a January thaw,” Gaidica added. “I don’t know how they make their ice for the game, but I’d say it should be comfortable to watch.”