ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs could draw a record crowd for hockey in the NHL’s next Winter Classic.
A source confirmed Wednesday the teams would officially be named as participants in the Jan. 1, 2013 game at a press conference Thursday.
The Leafs and Red Wings will face one another at Michigan Stadium, where the current attendance record was set in a game between the Wolverines and rival Michigan State on Dec. 11, 2010. They drew an attendance of 104,173, setting a Guinness World Record.
A pair of venues will be used for the next Winter Classic.
In addition to Michigan Stadium, other games and events will be held at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.
News of the Leafs-Red Wings matchup has been rumoured for weeks, but the deal was only finalized Wednesday. During a special meeting, the University of Michigan Board of Regents authorized athletic director Dave Brandon to seek a contract with the NHL to host the event.
The NHL has offered to pay up to US$3 million for a license to use the iconic college football stadium, according to the recommendation approved by the board.
A liquor license would be obtained so alcohol could be served at the event, and the NHL would bring its “advertising and other sponsorship arrangements” into the stadium.
“I think it’s a really unique situation,” Detroit’s Drew Miller said after the Red Wings’ 4-2 victory over Edmonton on Wednesday night.
Previous Winter Classic outdoor games have been played in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This is the first one that will involve a Canadian team. However, there have been two outdoor Heritage Classics in Canada: Montreal at Edmonton in 2003, and Montreal at Calgary last year.
The game at Edmonton was the league’s first outdoor regular-season game, although it came two years after Michigan State hosted Michigan in an outdoor hockey game at the Spartans’ football stadium in front of 74,544 people.
Miller, who played at Michigan State, recalled watching his brother Ryan play in the 2001 game for the Spartans.
“I was a spectator for that one, and that was a lot of fun to be a part of,” he said. “It’s going to be amazing to play in front of 110,000 people, and the way they pack the people in there, it’s going to be really fun.”
Those teams met nearly a decade later in Ann Arbor and smashed the world attendance record. At that point, Brandon said the event was unlikely to become an annual tradition, but it could potentially be played in four-year cycles so future generations of Michigan players could participate.
The venerable Big House has undergone changes recently, such as the addition of permanent lights. Michigan hosted its first prime-time football game at the stadium last season, beating Notre Dame in dramatic fashion.
Although Detroit hasn’t hosted the Winter Classic, the Red Wings played in it in 2009, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 6-4 at Wrigley Field—the home of baseball’s Chicago Cubs.
With files from Associated Press reporter Larry Lage in Detroit.