The Maple Leafs announced Wednesday they’ll be the proud hosts of the NHL’s first-ever Centennial Classic – an outdoor game at BMO Field – on Jan. 1, 2017. It will mark the second time the two Original Six teams have faced off outdoors, but it will be the first time Toronto has hosted what is always an event to remember.
“It’s such a celebration of hockey,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said Wednesday night after the announcement was made. “It just means so much to the players, but also, it means a lot to fans that…grew up in climates like this (and) experienced hockey outdoors. So I think fans like that they can understand professional athletes are enjoying it, and they can identify with that.”
The Wings and Leafs squared off at Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day of 2014 for a Winter Classic outdoor game, and an astonishing (and record-setting) 105,491 Toronto and Detroit fans were in attendance to see the Buds win 3-2 in a shootout. Three years later, the game will be staged at the more intimate BMO Field – home of Major League Soccer’s Toronto Football Club – and Shanahan expects the overall aura of the event to resonate for fans watching in person and on one of the broadcast platforms.
“I think it’s going to be a great site, with great sight lines,” Shanahan said of BMO Field. “The atmosphere, just the fact that it’s two Original Six teams, it’s the first game like it in Toronto, the hundred-year birthday – I think the atmosphere is going to be very, very good.”
The Leafs expect the attendance for the 2017 Centennial Classic – a name that encapsulates the NHL’s 100th year of existence, as well as the Leafs’ century as a league franchise – to come in somewhere in the neighbourhood of 35,000 fans. That promises to make tickets as hot as any Toronto has seen in years – and league commissioner Gary Bettman sees the event as a perfect way to promote the storied history and rivalry of both teams.
“This meeting of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs offers an ideal launch for a fantastic 2017 -- the year in which the National Hockey League will celebrate its Centennial, Toronto will commemorate 100 years of NHL play and Canada will observe the 150th anniversary of Confederation,” Bettman said in a press release. “Since the Red Wings and Maple Leafs made NHL outdoor history by drawing more than 105,000 people to ‘The Big House’ in 2014, this unique rematch provides a perfect beginning to an historic year for our League, our Clubs and our fans.”