One of the many great features of the Winter Classic is the location. The first one in 2008 was played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, and through the years the NHL has played the game in parks venerable (Wrigley Field, Fenway Park) and modernized (Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park).
Michigan Stadium, used mainly for football but also the venue for the "Big Chill at the Big House" college hockey game in 2012 between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, will host the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Each year presents different planning agendas for schemes that work best in football and baseball stadiums in terms of getting the rink to fit dimensions and go with the shape of each facility.
The League will get plenty of practice as the regular season progresses. Following the 2014 Winter Classic are Coors Light Stadium Series games at Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles), Yankee Stadium (New York) and Soldier Field (Chicago), and the Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at BC Place in Vancouver.
"Each one is unique and special in its own way. Being in Fenway Park was incredible because of the history of that ballpark," said NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood. "I love the fact that there's variety. I don't want just one place. We want to be in a variety of different buildings and as we all know, the rink is smaller than the football field, so it fits well on any surface.
"Baseball stadiums work great the way they've run it, and the Stadium Series that's coming up is well-designed and is going to work really, really well between Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Solider Field, and then out in Vancouver. The NHL has done a wonderful job figuring out how to execute these games and how to put a really good ice surface down. [NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations] Dan Craig and his team deserve a ton of credit for getting [Michigan Stadium] to a great place."
Mike "Doc" Emrick, who will call the 2014 Winter Classic for NBC, recalls a strong wind of up to 30 miles per hour during the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. As the designated home team, the Detroit Red Wings will get to decide which end they want to defend to open the game, a difficult decision considering the unknown wind conditions Wednesday.
It's that unknown which is part of the spirit that is the Winter Classic.
"All of this is the fun part of being here," Emrick said. "You can have a forecast, but you can never really predict what's going to happen."