They got it right—the third Winter Classic, to take place on January 1, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago will showcase the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings and the up-and-coming Chicago Blackhawks.
Only six months removed from arguably the most successful "publicity stunt" ever by Gary Bettman and the NHL, the league announced the Original Six matchup; one that has the potential to top last season's Penguins/Sabres game in Buffalo, which drew 2.3 million viewers in the United States on NBC and saw 71,217 fans pack inside a chilly Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Ironically, barring a trade of Detroit's newly-signed backup Ty Conklin, this will mark the third time he has participated in the outdoor game. Talk about getting lucky signing in the right places. He backstopped both the Oilers and Penguins during the first "Classics."
While this may be the strangest storyline, there are plenty more reasons to believe this rendition of the Winter Classic will be the most talked about regular season NHL game in recent history, and surpass last season's January 1 game as the best to date.
1. Wrigley Field
Wrigley has a richer history than Ralph Wilson Stadium. While the potential for restricted sight lines should be an interesting topic as we approach the New Year, there is no doubt that choosing Wrigley Field as the venue is the smartest decision the league could have made.
Baseball fans alike will tune in to see how the NHL managed to pull off an NHL game inside the second-oldest active major league ballpark (after Fenway) in America.
2. Detroit Red Wings
Wanna draw the casual fan to watch a hockey game? Look no further than the Detroit Red Wings. Coming off their 11th Cup victory, the Wings consistently draw the largest crowds on the road each season and spike television ratings, especially when they appear in the Stanley Cup Final.
Motown's team, combined with last year's Winter Classic team, the Penguins, drew 6.8 million viewers for Cup-clinching Game Six on NBC.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks are the Pittsburgh Penguins of the Western Conference—they have a plethora of young, promising stars, most notably Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (Crosby and Malkin).
They have, like the Pens, turned their franchise around by making choice selections in recent Entry Drafts, and currently look to have one of the better goaltenders in the league to take them deep into the playoffs in Cristobal Huet (Marc-Andre Fleury).
Having won the Brian Campbell sweepstakes, the Blackhawks should be one of the most entertaining teams, if not THE most exciting this upcoming NHL season (Penguins 2007-2008), as this game may serve as a preview of the Western Conference Finals in June.
4. The Rise of the NHL
While the NHL struggles to become more than just a niche sport in the United States, it has enjoyed an increase in casual interest, beginning with the 2008 Winter Classic, and culminating with the Cup Final.
The league looks to build its image and its exposure by marketing the young, innovative players of this generation of stars. There is no better way than to showcase two almost completely opposite franchises in their makeup, but model franchises nonetheless.
The 2009 Winter Classic should go down as the most memorable of the three, thus the NHL got it right, something we do not see as often as we'd like, but they got it right, without a doubt.
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