ANN ARBOR, Mich. – As the novelty of playing hockey outdoors seems to be wearing off, the NHL is hoping bigger is better at the Winter Classic.
The league has been playing at least one game outdoors annually since 2008 other than last season because of the lockout. The popularity of the concept is being tested by putting six games in the elements this season.
With a lot more fans and two Original Six teams, including one from Canada for the first time, the NHL is confident the 2014 Winter Classic will be different.
“Those are two distinguishing factors,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “It’ll be special.”
The league said 105,500 tickets have been sold for the game today between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. That almost doubles the average of 53,045 spectators who watched the first five Winter Classics.
If every person who paid for a ticket braves temperatures in the teens on a snowy afternoon, a record will be broken.
In the same football stadium, known as the Big House, Michigan and Michigan State set a hockey attendance record of 104,173 in 2010.
“If you haven’t been to a football Saturday here, then you should put it on your bucket list,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Tuesday after a brief practice.
“It’s the best sporting event. I’ve been to the Olympic Games, the World Series, the Stanley Cup. This is probably the best sporting event I’ve ever been to, bar none.”
Some players will borrow a practice from football, putting eye black on their cheeks to help cope with glare.
“I remember back to Wrigley Field (in the 2009 Winter Classic), I thought it looked kind of silly when guys were doing it,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “But it does actually help.”
And like some football games, shoveling might be necessary to clear the playing surface.
“A little bit of snow just adds to the romance of the game,” NHL chief operating officer John Collins said.
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