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Draftees excited for outdoor exposure

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Both Red Wings prospects Andreas Athanasiou (L) and Jake Paterson will participate in the OHL doubleheader in December with their respecitive clubs, the London Knights and Saginaw Spirit. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – The Red Wings’ players and their minor-league brethren aren’t the only ones excited about playing in an outdoor game next season. So are some of the franchise’s prospects that aren’t under contract.

Playing in an outdoor game isn’t anything new for the American Hockey League. But for the Ontario Hockey League, being invited to particulate in the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Classic is a whole different story, especially for a pair of recent Red Wings’ draft picks.

“It’ll definitely be a great experience,” said Saginaw goalie Jake Paterson, whom the Red Wings selected in the third-round of last month’s NHL draft. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s the first time the OHL has done something like this so it’ll be really cool to be a part of it.

“My being drafted by Detroit and the fact that the game is being played at Comerica Park makes things it even more special.”

Not only will the junior league play in its first-ever outdoor game in December, it will see four of its member clubs compete on a one-day doubleheader at Comerica Park, the home to Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers. The games will be played on Saturday, Dec. 29.

Announced during a news conference held Wednesday morning near the first-base line at Comerica Park, the OHL doubleheader will feature two teams from Michigan – the Saginaw Spirit and Plymouth Whalers – and two from the neighboring Canadian province of Ontario – the Windsor Spitfires and London Knights. Windsor will play Saginaw, and Plymouth will face-off against London.

Besides Paterson, it’s expected that Wings’ prospects and London forward Andreas Athanasiou, will also be part of the festivities in late December.

Athanasiou, the Wings’ fourth-round pick last month, will join his Knights teammates, including Maple Leafs’ draft pick Ryan Rupert, when the defending OHL champions take on the Whalers.

“It’s going to be a great experience for the Knights’ organization,” Athanasiou said. “For the players, I think we all grew up playing on the ponds outside during winter with our buddies, being out there for a good six or seven hours so it will be cool for sure to play a junior game like that.”

For the Ontario league, finally getting an outdoor game will surely help to fire-up the fan-bases for all four organizations.

“We’re honored to be playing in the Hockeytown Winter Festival,” said Spirit president Craig Goslin. “The first time only happens once, and certainly this is the first-ever outdoor OHL game so it’s exciting for our fans.

“For the city of Saginaw, this is really going to show the good things that are happening in Saginaw right now. The economy is coming back, Saginaw County is doing really well right now and there are a lot of positives that are happening. So certainly, we’re going to be able to put an exclamation point on this during the Winter Festival.”

Saginaw president Craig Goslin announced the OHL games scheduled for Dec. 29 at Comerica Park. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

Another day of exciting hockey is planned for Dec. 30 when the Grand Rapids Griffins will host to the Toronto Marlies in an AHL contest. The Griffins-Marlies game will be the fifth time that the AHL has ventured outdoors in its 76 year history.

The first outdoor AHL game occurred in 2010 when Syracuse defeated Binghamton, 2-1, at the New York State Fairgrounds in Upstate New York. Two years later, Adirondack and Hershey played to an AHL record crowd of 45,653 fans at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

The Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival, featuring college, junior and pro games highlight a schedule of outdoor games across the country set for untraditional venues. Also planned this year are doubleheaders at Chicago’s Solider Field and TD Ameritrade Park – home to the NCAA College World Series – in Omaha, Neb.

“The potential of having this stadium full of people and our players having their talent exposed to so many other people is huge,” Goslin said. “Our league has so much skill, and when you look at the NHLers that have come out of our league, it’s a step below the talent level in the NHL and it’s great to see so many people getting exposed to the OHL.”

With the Comerica Park games set, Goslin, who also sits on the OHL’s executive council, hopes the exciting will be a catalyst for other games in the future.

“Hopefully this allows us to host other Canadian Hockey League events in the U.S.,” he said. “Out west they’ve done that in the Western Hockey League and we certainly would like to do that as well.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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