The nationally televised Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival are five weeks away, but excitement is escalating.
Fans are snapping up tickets for the New Year's Day outdoor game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and work began Friday to prepare for a Comerica Park infield rink. John Niyo has a preview at The Detroit News:
The long-awaited Winter Classic featuring two Original Six teams — the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs — at Michigan Stadium is a virtual sellout. . . . The Hockeytown Winter Festival built around the New Year’s Day game is taking shape, too. . . .
An HBO film crew already has been in town shooting footage for its popular “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” documentary, a four-part series which debuts Dec. 14.
NHL executives were at Joe Louis Arena this week for a presentation about the high-profile events, which include two New Year's Eve games at Comerica Park between former Wings and Maple Leafs players. The ballpark also will host college and minor-league hockey games over five days. (Tickets are available here.)
Related activities and entertainment from Dec. 27-31 will take place in a "Fan Zone" outside the Detroit stadium, including a street hockey rink, recreational rink. toboggan slide and artifacts from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Access will be free to anyone with a ticket for that day's hockey games, and $5 for others.
NHL Winter Classics began in 2008 and haven't featured a Canadian team until now. The Wings and Leafs originally were supposed to face off in Ann Arbor last Jan. 1 until a contract standoff brought a four-month league lockout of players .
Here's more from Niyo's report on the rescheduled events:
“In every respect, the Winter Classic in Hockeytown is going to be the biggest one ever, and probably forever,” said John Collins, the NHL’s chief operating officer. “I think it’ll stand for all time as the biggest game we’ll ever do.” . . .
The Wings say they’ve already sold nearly 80 percent of a possible 280,000 seats for the ticketed events in this year’s week-long festival. Some 30-35 percent were purchased by Canadian fans, meaning sold-out hotels for the holidays and, presumably, healthy bar tabs at local restaurants in Detroit and Ann Arbor.
The Winter Classic is expected to inject $30 million in spending into the region, Collins predicts.
NBC will broadcast the Winter Classic nationally, while Fox Sports Detroit is expected to air the Winter Festival games.
In Ann Arbor, city council members this week approved street closings for a New Year's Eve bash called “The Puck Drops Here,” sponsored by the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. A giant puck lit with more than 6,000 LED lights will drop at midnight, an Associated Press report says.