The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Friday, February 10, 2012 - 7
How the 2013 Winter Classic came to Ann Arbor
By STEPHEN J. NESBITT
Daily Sports Editor
DETROIT - The inaugural
meeting between the Toronto
Maple Leafs and Detroit Cou-
gars took place on Jan. 4, 1927 at
Border Cities Arena in Windsor,
Ontario. The arena - nicknamed
"The Barn" - was the Cougars'
Detroit, which later assumed
the Red Wings moniker, was
waiting on the construction of its
next home, Olympia Stadium -
coined "The Old Red Barn."
While the Cougars and Maple
Leafs tangled on the other side
of the Detroit River, Michigan
Stadium was being built just 40
miles to the west, set to host its
first game less than nine months
Eighty-six years later, again
on the first Tuesday in January,
Toronto and Detroit will face off
But this time, it'll be differ-
ent. It won't be at a barn, it'll be
at the Big House. On Thursday,
the National Hockey League
announced that the 2013 Winter
Classic will be held at Michigan
Stadium, featuring two of the
Original Six teams.
The Maple Leafs hold the edge
in the all-time record by the
slimmest of margins - 276-275.
At one point in 1986, the teams
also met at Yost Ice Arena for a
preseason game, which ended in
a 4-4 tie.
To break the deadlock nature
of the rivalry, the competition is
going outside. NHL commission-
er Gary Bettman called the Win-
ter Classic the "ultimate rubber
But how the Winter Classic
came to Ann Arbor is a longer
It began with The Big Chill
at the Big House, a Dec. 11, 2010
matchup between Michigan and
Michigan State. The event drew
a world-record shattering crowd
of 104,173 - the average atten-
dance for the Winter Classic is
The wheels were turning for
Bettman and Co., who wanted
a chance to reclaim the biggest
stage in hockey for themselves.
Then, on the day after Thanks-
giving, Michigan Athletic Direc-
tor Dave Brandon fielded a call
from the NHL.
"The question was: 'Would you
consider it?' " Brandon recalled.
"My response was: 'We'll consid-
His mind was elsewhere,
though. The next day was what
Brandon referred to as "a small
football game" - Michigan-Ohio
In Toronto, it was Brian
Burke, Maple Leafs president
and general manager, who took
a phone call from the commis-
"Can you sell 40,000 tickets?"
league officials asked.
"Give me 48 hours," Burke said.
If Toronto could produce
those kind of numbers, the crowd
would be evenly split. They went
back to Burke.
"Can you sell 50,000?" they
Again, Burke responded with
"Give me 72 hours," he said
Toronto was in. The roadblock
was coercing Red Wings and
Detroit Tigers owner Mike Illitch
into allowing the league to host
the Winter Classic at a site other
than Comerica Park, the home of
Comerica Park was a perfect-
ly suitable venue. But the NHL
wasn't looking for suitable. It
wanted a spectacle.
After discussions with the
NHL, the Illitch family and Red
Wings agreed to host the inaugu-
ral Hockeytown Winter Festival
in Detroit, in lieu of the game.
The festival will feature the Great
Lakes Invitational and a host of
other games and events at a rink
stretched across the infield at
"We want to make this big in
terms of attendance at the Big
House, but big in terms of trying
to involve as many different peo-
ple as possible," said Red Wings
general manager Ken Holland.
"(The Illitches) are passion-
ate about the city of Detroit. But
they're also passionate about
the NHL. Taking our team, our
brand, our league on the biggest
stage to try and promote our
game is a win-win."
Brandon brought John Collins,
the NHL's chief operating offi-
cer, and a handful of Michigan
and Red Wings staffers to the Big
House in early December to dis-
The rain pounded on the day
they visited - not a pleasant open
house for the Big House.
"We walked down to the end
of the tunnel and the sheets of
water were pouring down on the
tunnel, so we never even came
Alumni of the Toronto and Detroit clubs shared their thoughts at a press contereoce at Comerica Park in Detroit.
out on the field," Brandon said.
"But they peeked, and thankfully
we were up in the club area. And
they really got a sense for what
we had here.
"We talked a lot about the Big
Chill and how we did what we
did. And then it was a function
of, could we come up with an
arrangement where the econom-
ics were right and the logistics
could be managed and we could
kind of jump through all the
hoops? (And) we did."
Among those discussions,
Brandon highlighted the debate
over allowing alcohol in the Big
Though not permitted at any
home football games, the NHL's
Michigan Stadium lease will
allow alcohol sales in the sta-
Brandon also cited the difficul-
ty of maintaining a professional-
level ice rink on the Big House
turf, even after the success of the
Big Chill, saying it takes a lot of
"infrastructure and power and
maintenance and preparation."
"This stadium is normally
mothballs and closed up toward
the end of November until the
following spring," Brandon said.
"It became a part of activating
a stadium on a holiday, when
school is closed and a lot of peo-
ple are gone.
"There were more moving
parts than I thought there were
going to be when we first started
Bettman emphasized that
Brandon's patience and attention
to detail were invaluable in the
entire process, from November
to Thursday's press conferences.
"When you're dealing with an
event of this magnitude, there
are always going to be issues,"
Bettman said. "But we couldn't
have done this without Dave
With the contract signed and
professional hockey officially
coming to the Big House in the
2013 Winter Classic, it's time
for reactions. Brandon said he
received hundreds of comments
- and only one of them negative.
One guy sent me an e-mail
and said, 'Shame on you,' Bran-
don said. "It was a three-word
With a crowd of 115,000
expected when the Maple Leafs
and Red Wings skate at the Big
House, one detractor isn't too
hard to ignore.
(Left) Pavel Datsyuk speaks with reporters at a Thursday press conference announcing the (center) 2013 Winter Classic at the Big House. (Right) Henrik Zetterberg and Nikias Kronwall pose at midfield at Michigan Stadium.
GLI heads outdoors in Detroit
Red Wings marvel at Big
House in Thursday visit
By EVERETT COOK
Daily Sports Editor
Until very recently, Red
Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk
had never stepped inside Michi-
gan Stadium despite playing all'
10 of his NHL seasons in Detroit.
American football isn't too
popular in Datsyuk's native Rus-
On Thursday afternoon, Dat-
syuk walked out of the tunnel
normally reserved for those
wearing winged helmets and
cleats and onto the field at the
Big House, where he marveled at
the expansive bleachers that the
NHL is hoping can fit upwards
of 115,000 people on New Year's
Day for the 2013 Winter Classic.
Jan. 1, 2013 is going to be an
experience that even one of the
world's best players is excited
"My first reaction was to pick
up the phone and call Russia to
tell people, 'You need to be here,'
" Datsyuk said. "It's going to be
unbelievable, it's a feeling you
can't explain - like a big, big
During Michigan Athletic-
Director Dave Brandon's official
announcement that the game
will pit two of the NHL's Origi-
nal Six teams - the Toronto
Maple Leafs and Detroit -
against each other, Datsyuk and
Henrik Zetterberg were whis-
pering to each other and gazing
up at the luxury suites hundreds
of feet up.
Later on, Datsyuk took his
stick and ran around the artifi-
cial turf, flipping an imaginary
puck towards the goals that
had been set up on the field and
pointing out to his teammates
where the blue lines should be.
Datsyuk is already preparing
for a game that's 11 months away.
"I can't even imagine how it is
goingto be," Datsyuk said. "I like
the Winter Classic, I like to play
outside like when we were kids
- I love it."
Unlike Datsyuk, goaltender
Jimmy Howard has been to quite
a few Michigan football games.
He went to nearby Pioneer High
School when he played for the
United States Development
Team, and he trios to go at least
once a year.
"They're always fun," Howard
said. "I like to get here a little bit
early to watch the people funnel
in here and see how quickly this
place fills up. It really is amaz-
Even without fans in atten-
dance, the scene was a bit surreal.
In the same spot where Michi-
gan junior quarterback Denard
Robinson makes defenders look
foolish, Zetterberg laughed at
questions regarding a Red Wings
banner for the players to slap as
they exited the tunnel.
Zetterberg looked down and
gathered little rubber pellets on
the stick from the field's artificial
Like Datsyuk, Zetterberg was
already starting to think about
the game. Breaking the atten-
dance record - or attempting to
break it - for most spectators at
a hockey game will inspire that
type of reaction.
"It's too bad it's almost a year
away," Zetterberg said. "You
almost want to do it in a week
or two. It'll be exciting. We were
all fired up when we heard the
rumors, we were really hoping it
"In the last few days, when
we knew, it was hard to keep it a
Of course, participating in the
Winter Classic means partici-
pating in "24/7", HBO's reality
show that follows the two teams
around in the weeks leading up
to the game.
The prospect of dealing with
an ever-present camera drew
"I don't mind it, I think it will
be fun being on HBO," Howard
said. "I like to tune in and see
behind the scenes of other clubs,
and I think the fans enjoy it too."
Added Zetterberg: "I talked to
some other guys that have been
through the experience, and
they said you get used to it after
In his choppy English, Dat-
syuk dropped a hint to the pro-
ducers of the show, saying that
following him around with a
camera would remind the view-
ers of a silent film.
It's all part of the price you
pay when playing in the biggest
game in NHL history.
"It's a cross-border thing with
two Original Six teams that have
a great rivalry already," said Red
Wings coach Mike Babcock.
"You've got two countries excit-
ed. We're fired up."
By MATT SLOVIN
DETROIT - The Great Lakes
Invitational will deviate from
tradition this December. Instead
of playing at Detroit's Joe Louis
Arena, teams will travel from all
ends of Michigan and convene at
That's right - for the first
time in its storied history, what
Red Wings netminder Jimmy
Howard called one of college
hockey's most prestigious holi-
day tournaments will move out-
At a Thursday morning press
conference in the ballpark's
Tiger Club, Christopher Ilitch,
son of Red Wings and Tigers
owner Mike Ilitch, formally
announced that the semifinals of
the event would mark the first-
ever hockey games played at
College hockey is just one of
many levels of play that will be
represented during the week-
long celebration of the sport,.
dubbed the "Hockeytown Win-
ter Festival." Other participants
include the Ontario Hockey
League, American Hockey
League and youth teams.
But Michigan coach Red
Berenson says the Great Lakes
Invitational will draw many of
the 150,000 to 200,000 people
that National Hockey League
commissioner Gary Bettman
anticipates visiting Detroit for
hockey the last week of Decem-
"I think the twist this year ...
it'll be unique," Berenson said.
"We'll see where it goes from
Adding the college games into
the mix was a natural decision.
The Michigan hockey commu-
a tight-knit one, and Red Michigan was named the fourth
coach Mike Babcock par- invitee.
ly enjoys sharing ideas "That's a recent change,"
lerenson and makes sure Berenson said. "I don't know
h a game at Yost Ice Arena what happened to St. Cloud
once in awhile. (State) or what the thinking was.
alk to (Berenson) a lot ... But Western's a good program
talk hockey, in general," and they'll bring a lot of people."
ck said. "I follow his team. The general feeling among the
e it a goal to watch all of NHL executives and Red Wings
lichigan college hockey players and alumni on hand for
). It's exciting." Thursday's announcement was
't expect the outdoor that college hockey will benefit
of the tournament to from a tremendous boost in vis-
e a regularity, though. ibility through the event.
rent is being held in con- Howard, who played his col-
nn with the Winter Clas- lege hockey at Maine, still keeps
Ann Arbor,'making it the tabs on the goings-on at that
t time to venture from the level.
es of Joe Louis Arena. "Come Christmas time, all you
hear about is the GLI," Howard
said. "Even with all of the other
tournaments going on, it's very
It's going to high-profile. With it moving
outdoors, it's only going to make
e special for it better for college hockey."
There's no mistaking which
rerybody Of game will dominate the week-
1 , long hockey festival. Signage
all levels. throughout Comerica Park and
Michigan Stadium on Thurs-
day focused on the Big House,
where the Red Wings will meet
hink it's a one-time deal," the Toronto Maple Leafs on New
on said. "I don't think it's Year's Day. But that isn't stop-
o be continued every year. ping former Red Wing center
for our players, they look Kris Draper from looking for-
d to it." ward to the college games that
higan Tech, Michigan and will pit the Wolverines against
gan State are the perennial Michigan Tech and Michigan
pants in the tournament, State against Western Michigan
iey're joined by a fourth in the semifinals.
each year. This year, St. "The GLI will be fantastic,"
State had agreed to take Draper said. "It's going to be
ut it seems the event orga- special for everybody at all lev-
had their hearts set on an els."
chigan affair for the out- Though the tournament is
ournament. According to still almost a year away, the
ud State coach Bob Motz- NHL decided to announce the
team had its invitation events early because of its "enor-
d. On Thursday, Western mity," as Bettman put it.