The 2014 Winter Classic matchup featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings is now official. The NHL made the expected announcement Sunday. The annual outdoor game will take place at Michigan Stadium:
Hockeytown and The Big House will come together next winter for what is expected to be a historic holiday extravaganza of hockey culminating with the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
The league projects the marquee regular-season game could break the record for most fans at an ice hockey game, which currently stands at just over 104,000 people. That record-breaking crowd watched Michigan State take on Michigan in the same stadium three years ago.
One interesting element of the game is that the Leafs and Red Wings will become division rivals starting next season as the NHL undergoes realignment.
It should help create an even more intense atmosphere for the New Year's Day clash.
Toronto and Detroit were originally slated to play in the 2013 Winter Classic, but it was canceled due to the league's lockout. Now the teams get a chance to enjoy the spotlight without the fear of a work stoppage getting in the way.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a statement as a part of the announcement:
The history of the teams' cross-border rivalry, the nobility of The Big House and the growing tradition of the NHL Winter Classic will raise the anticipation for this event to new heights. We are delighted to offer our fans a spectacle at which the energy will be unmatched and the demand for tickets will be unprecedented. For anyone involved in any way—as a player, a coach, an official, a fan—this NHL Winter Classic will be a truly memorable hockey moment.
The Winter Classic has become a key spectacle for the NHL. During a period of time on the sports calendar when the league struggles to draw casual fans away from the NFL and college football, the outdoor game provides an opportunity to shine in front of a mainstream audience.
Next year's game will be the sixth one since the idea was hatched in 2008.
The Red Wings previously made an appearance in 2009, beating the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field. Toronto will be the first Canadian team to take part in a Classic.
Michigan Stadium has a capacity of nearly 110,000. The previous record for a Winter Classic is just over 71,000 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo for the 2008 game, so the attendance for this game should easily take over the top spot.
Leading up to the game itself, the report states there will be a winter festival highlighted by action from just about every level, starting with the American Hockey League and going all the way down to youth games.