DETROIT -- Hockeytown will become considerably larger this winter, encompassing nearby Ann Arbor for an unforgettable New Year's Day spectacle.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman formally confirmed Sunday morning from Joe Louis Arena that the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be played at 1 p.m. ET on New Year's Day at The Big House on the campus of University of Michigan between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In addition, Bettman said Comerica Park in downtown Detroit will be converted into a rink for the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival.
The NHL anticipates setting a world record for attendance at a hockey game as upwards of 110,000 people are expected to pack The Big House on the campus of the University of Michigan for the Winter Classic game. An estimated 250,000 are expected to descend on downtown Detroit for the Hockeytown Winter Festival.
"We've been excited about going to The Big House, and we're glad that the plans are falling into place to do everything we originally planned to do and more," Commissioner Bettman said.
The Red Wings and Maple Leafs were originally scheduled to play at The Big House on Jan. 1, 2013, but the event was cancelled because of the lockout.
The same plans are in place for the 2014 event, with the possibility of the NHL considering doing more with the added time to plan.
"In terms of the ancillary events, I think we have the ability to do more and do some better planning," Commissioner Bettman said. "We want to make sure that this event is as strong and as solid and as big as it can be. Everything we're doing is in pursuit of that."
The marquee event before the actual Winter Classic game will be the 2014 Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs Alumni Showdown on New Year's Eve.
Nearly 100 alumni from both teams have asked to participate, requiring the NHL, the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs to plan for two alumni games at Comerica Park on New Year's Eve.
"People like to have a reason to come together and celebrate," Leafs alumni Darryl Sittler told NHL.com. "The game is an event, but there is so many other things surrounding it. You talk about the alumni and I really look forward to getting back on the ice with Lanny [MacDonald] and Tiger [Williams]. In Detroit, they've had huge success over the last number of years and they're going to have a little bit younger of an alumni team than us. But the fact that they're having two games and every player who is an alumni of these two teams gets a chance to be a part of it, that tells you a lot about it."
The Winter Festival will also feature games of all levels of hockey (American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, NCAA, high school and youth) being played on the temporary rink built atop the infield at Comerica Park from mid-December into the new year.
"Usually you just think of the Winter Classic as a game and an unreal game, but what Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch have done downtown is they have turned this into an event," Red Wings alum Kris Draper said. "It's going to be special. It's going to be a great time around the city of Detroit."
Commissioner Bettman also announced that HBO will be back with another 24/7 series featuring the Red Wings and Maple Leafs. The series will air on Sportsnet in Canada.
"This was the concept from last year and we said the next Winter Classic would be between these two teams in The Big House and that's exactly what is happening," Commissioner Bettman said. "This is a huge event, and no matter when it would be played and under whatever circumstances we had nothing but great anticipation for it. The combination of the Winter Festival and the game itself at The Big House is just going to be phenomenal."
One addition to the 2014 Winter Classic is the fact it will be a divisional game played between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs. Detroit is moving into the Eastern Conference and the same division as Toronto starting next season.
"The fact that now we're in the same conference and division, it's going to be even more special," Sittler said.
However, rivalry is a word often associated with Detroit and Toronto -- and not just because the cities are close geographically.
Detroit and Toronto have played 644 times since Jan. 4, 1927, when the Toronto St. Patricks defeated the Detroit Cougars, 2-1.
In his remarks during the press conference Sunday morning, Tom Anselmi, President and COO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, made a point of saying Toronto has 276 wins in the all-time series while Detroit has 275.
However, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland responded when he stepped up to the podium by pointing out Detroit has earned 646 points in the all-time season series while Toronto has 645.
"This is a perfect rubber match," Anselmi said.
And yet so much more than that.
"I suppose this event is so big we need to make the announcement twice," Commissioner Bettman said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Further details on the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic®, including ticketing information for each team, will be released shortly. Fans interested in purchasing tickets for any of the events associated with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® and SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival™ should register to receive more information at either www.detroitredwings.com/2014nhlwinterclassic or www.mapleleafs.com/nhlwinterclassic.
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