By Doug Halberstadt
The popularity of outdoor hockey has increased dramatically over the last few years. The National Hockey League Winter Classic has showcased two teams playing outdoors on New Year’s Day for the past five years. The 2013 Winter Classic featuring the Detroit Red Wings versus the Toronto Maple Leafs was canceled because of the lockout.
This Sunday (Feb. 17), fans of the sport can take in a double-header at Soldier Field in Chicago. The historic venue will host the Hockey City Classic. For the first time in the history of Soldier Field, hockey will be played inside the stadium. Granted, it’s not the NHL, but fans will still be treated to seeing four of the country’s premier college teams face off against one another.
In the game beginning at noon, the University of Notre Dame will take on Miami University. That game will be followed up with the University of Minnesota battling the University of Wisconsin at 3:30 p.m.
Tickets for the Hockey City Classic are currently on sale and range in price from $15 to $85. Tickets are valid for both games and can be purchased by calling 1-800-745-3000 or at Ticketmaster.com.
Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly is hoping the Hockey City Classic will pave the way for a future NHL Winter Classic. “We are built for winter sports, so we have the proper facilities, we have the proper heating systems, we have the necessary capacity for hockey,” Kelly said. “I’d put us up against anybody in the country — one, as a hockey town; two, as the proper venue for hockey in Chicago.”
He went on to add: “I think we’re going to pack this place. I think this, at least for one day, will rival a Bears game. I could easily see 57,000, 62,000 people in this stadium going nuts.”
In 2009, the NHL did play their Winter Classic in Chicago, but the game was held at Wrigley Field. Almost 41,000 people showed up to watch the Detroit Red Wings defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-4 Jan. 1, 2009.
If this year’s Hockey City Classic is indeed a success and Kelly is correct with his attendance prediction, the NHL will be forced to take notice. That means it shouldn’t be too long before Blackhawks fans will get another opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors while watching their team skate. That is, as long as there aren’t any more labor disputes.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Feb. 13-19, 2013, issue