-- Kalamazoo, Mich. residents, Ernie and Donnie Waterhouse say they "should be Red Wings fans." But it turns out their connections to the Cubs (following on television and radio) run deep enough to have converted them to Blackhawks fans.
"It's great to have the Hawks back and playing so well," said Ernie. The couple stopped outside Wrigley Field Tuesday to buy a commemorative game puck ("worth more signed by Commissioner [Gary] Bettman," said Donnie). They will be "glued" to their TV in Kalamazoo Jan. 1 when the puck drops for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at 1 p.m. ET (NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio).
"We wouldn't miss it," said Donnie, adding that the game puck they purchased let's them feel more part of the big game.
Making the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic memorable won't be difficult for fans. The NHL has positioned four retail trailers outside Wrigley Field and another 15 locations inside the park for game day.
There will be commemorative bestsellers such as vintage Winter Classic jerseys (white for Detroit and black for Chicago -- moving fast!) and several types of knit hats (some reversible to show your team loyalties and/or mark the "Classic" occasion. Other popular items, at all price points, include a red event T-shirt (with a hip, faded-in look), the Winter Classic scarf, collectors' pucks and pennants (the latter two are sort of an investment).
Speaking of those Classic scarves, the doormen at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago are donning them at the league and game headquarters.
"We anticipate selling double the merchandise of what we sold at Buffalo [for last year's Winter Classic]," said Barry Monaghan, NHL vice president of retail sales and marketing. "The Blackhawks goods are going faster right now, but expect that to change as the Red Wings fans come into town."
There are two retailers open outside Wrigley Field on Tuesday until 6 p.m. and then again Wednesday. Plus, two more trailers will be open as part of the NHL Spectator Plaza that will be operating and available to the general public both Wednesday and Thursday/game day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. After the game on Thursday, the retail outlets will be open all afternoon and then again on Friday, Jan. 2.
Some fans might also choose to stop by the Wrigley Field retail landmark, Sports World, into January. The manager at Sports World said the store has "sold more Hawks stuff in the last two weeks than the previous 30 years."