|Photo from MiHockeyNow.com|
By Sean Gagnier
On Thursday the National Hockey League made official what had been known since Jan. 2nd, that the Detroit Red Wings would be playing host to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2013 Winter Classic. Commissioner Gary Bettman solidified the details during a press conference at Comerica Park in Detroit.
While the Winter Classic will not be held at Comerica Park, instead moving about an hour west to Ann Arbor to be held at the University of Michigan Stadium, several events will indeed take place in downtown Detroit. Comerica Park will be the sight of just about everything besides the Winter Classic itself - it will host two Ontario Hockey League games, probably featuring the two OHL teams from Michigan, the Saginaw Spirit and the Plymouth Whalers, an American Hockey League game, more than likely featuring the Grand Rapid Griffins, the AHL-affiliate of the Red Wings, the NHL Alumni game, and the Great Lakes Invitational.
The GLI has been a popular fixture in Michigan hockey for fifty years, the event is usually held at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit but a shift to the outdoor venue at Comerica Park should be exciting for the schools involved. During the GLI four college hockey teams square off in a tournament that features the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and an invited college each year.
While this will not be the first outdoor game for either Michigan or Michigan State it will be the first in Detroit. The two teams faced off in 2010 in the "Big Chill at the Big House" in which the Wolverines handily beat the Spartans 5-0. Michigan then went on to play another outdoor game that season when they played in Wisconsin and yet another this year when they headed down to Cleveland to face Ohio State.
Despite the Wolverines frequency of outdoor games the other schools involved will take full advantage of the stage to draw recruits and attention to their programs as well as just taking in the stage. Many of these players have grown up in southeastern Michigan and have been to untold numbers of Detroit Tigers games at Comerica Park, but now not only will they be down where their baseball heroes play, they will be playing a game of their own.
It is not yet known whether tickets to the GLI will be sold regularly as they have been for the history of the event or if the NHL will mandate the purchase of GLI, OHL or AHL tickets in order for fans to get their hands on tickets to the main event, the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor. Regardless, it is likely that the venue will allow for the largest crowd in GLI history and could transform many a general hockey fan into a college hockey fan.