With the National Hockey League scheduled to make a “major announcement” in Detroit on Thursday, members of the Michigan hockey team reacted with enthusiasm to the news that the Winter Classic is expected to be held in Ann Arbor next January.
Fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick grew up a fan of the Detroit Red Wings, who are expected to face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the New Year’s Day affair. And the Winter Classic is an event that he’s quite familiar with — in 2010 he went to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox to watch his brother Matt skate for the Boston Bruins.
“It was pretty much the best sporting event I’ve ever been to,” Hunwick said. “We had tickets on the (Green) Monster.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his face brightened when asked about the outdoor game.
“It’s just really cool, especially when it’s around New Year’s Eve,” Hunwick said. “Around that time, the city’s buzzing.”
Yesterday, the University’s Board of Regents voted to approve the lease of Michigan Stadium to the NHL for a sum of $3 million. Though the game is slated to be played over winter break, Athletic Director Dave Brandon anticipates no problem filling seats, especially considering how many Maple Leafs fans will likely make the trek across the border. Ann Arbor is roughly a five-hour drive from Toronto, and the Maple Leafs are known to have an international presence.
The Wolverines knocked off Michigan State at The Big Chill at the Big House in 2010 in a game that drew 104,173 fans. Brandon said on Wednesday that the NHL is “hell-bent” on ensuring the Winter Classic shatters the mark set in that game.
Though Hunwick has played in his fair share of outdoor games, the appeal of playing and watching outdoor games is still as strong as ever.
“Every city wants to host,” Hunwick said. “I think you should be able to fill up stadiums, especially baseball stadiums. It’s really a cool event.”
Sophomore forward Luke Moffatt didn’t have to think twice when asked if he would attend a Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.
Moffatt acknowledges that outdoor hockey isn’t exactly a novelty anymore. Games at baseball diamonds and football fields have popped up across the country, such the Frozen Diamond Faceoff the Wolverines participated in last month in Cleveland.
But Moffatt will undoubtedly get excited when January rolls around and two Original Six hockey teams face off at the Big House.
“At least from a player’s perspective, it’s something you really look forward to,” Moffatt said. “It’s a really fun point of the season. (It’s) something to kind of bring the old-school, classic pond hockey feel back into the game.”
The official announcement is expected to come on Thursday at a press conference at Detroit’s Comerica Park. The home of the Detroit Tigers is expected to host several auxiliary events, and several reports indicate that the Great Lakes Invitational would be included. Michigan has won that event, traditionally held at Joe Louis Arena, for two years running.
Correction appended: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the attendance for The Big Chill at the Big House game and incorrectly referenced a quote.