After a highly successful New Year’s Day matchup in Buffalo last season, the NHL has decided to replay the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago (TSN).
The Chicago Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings will play in a makeshift arena just like the one seen at Ralph Wilson Stadium last season when Pittsburgh and Buffalo played.
Reportedly, Chicago and Wrigley Field beat out Yankee Stadium and New York for the second installment of the Winter Classic. Yankee Stadium is in it’s final season of existence, and my guess is that Wrigley Field was chosen because Yankee Stadium is already getting the benefits of this years’ MLB All-Star Game.
I find it odd, though, that Wrigley Field was the ultimate choice.
Chicago and Detroit will be a great game to showcase. Detroit is coming off a Stanley Cup run, and will most likely be the favorite to repeat in ’08-’09. Chicago will look to build upon a surprising season where it finished with 88 pts., the highest total since 96 pts. in 2001-2002.
The only question that can be posed is, why Wrigley?
There is a much bigger venue in town that would surely be filled to capacity should the game be played there. That venue is Soldier Field.
Soldier Field seats approximately 61,500 fans (Ballparks.com). This is more than 20,000 more than Wrigley, which seats only 41,118 (Ballparks.com). More seats means more revenue. It also means a better atmosphere.
The atmosphere plays such a huge part in these outdoor games because the Winter Classic might be the number one tool to lure fans back to watching hockey.
Last year’s game was everything the NHL could have asked for and then some. A record crowd of 71,217 witnessed the face of the ‘new’ NHL win it in the last shot of a shootout…money in the bank.
The momentum created from that game needs to be sustained this year.
Wrigley Field is one of the most famous parks in the country, and it has history and lure. However, a football field is fashioned better for a hockey rink. The long sidelines and symmetrical square/oval shape means good viewing for the fans at the game, and a better background setting for the TV audience.
My fear is that it will look like I’m watching the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The setting is terrible, and the way the cameras are positioned shows the outfield fence where there were seemingly no fans.
If the game were played at Soldier Field, it would feature several tiers of fans completely surrounding the spectacle that is the Winter Classic. Also, it would allow for more Red Wing fans to attend the game. If you remember the game in Buffalo, then you probably remember there being quite a few Pens fans in attendance, and there cheers were definitely heard when Sidney Crosby netted the winning goal.
The drive is only about four or five hours between the cities, an easy trip.
Nevertheless, the game will be another sight to see. Surely NBC and the NHL will do everything possible to make this game as outstanding as it predecessor. It might actually be pretty cool to watch the players come out of the the same dugout as Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg.
The best the NHL can ask for is that both teams come in playing like they did last year, and we know how hard that can be to predict, especially with the Blackhawks.
Bear in mind that the announcement has not officially been made, so all of this could change. But it appears that the announcement will be made this week that Wrigley Field will be the venue.