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Wings to ring in New Year at Wrigley

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Chicago's snow belt often leaves Wrigley Field in a wintery grasp, even in early April. Imagine what the weatherman might have forecasted for New Year's Day.
DETROIT – Usually the smell of peanuts and Cracker Jack fills the air around Wrigley Field on the north side of Chicago.

However, that traditional atmosphere will be interrupted – albeit for one winter afternoon -- with the sounds of bodychecks and slap shots when the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks renew their Original Six rivalry on a frozen pond constructed in the middle of the field at the Friendly Confines.

The outdoor game, set for 1 p.m. ET on New Year's Day, will be the first such game in Red Wings’ franchise history, and has many fans and players excited about the opportunity.

“I’ve been there once for a baseball game a few years ago,” Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby said. “It’s a chance of a lifetime, obviously with two Original Six teams playing in a ballpark with the history that Wrigley has. It’s going to be great, but everybody is going to have their fingers crossed for good weather to allow us to play on some good ice.”

Wrigley Field, the second oldest major league ballpark (after Boston’s Fenway Park), has been home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916. Cubs great Ernie Banks dubbed the ballpark the “Friendly Confines” for its intimate setting in the Wrigleyville neighborhood.

The New Year’s game will be the fourth meeting of the 2008-09 season between the Central Division foes. The game comes two days after the two clubs play at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 30.

“The NHL is delighted to bring its most historic rivalry to one of the most historic venues in sports,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a staement. “We thank Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough for their vision. We thank Mike Ilitch and the Red Wings for their cooperation.”

The Wrigley game will be the third time that the NHL has hosted a regular-season contest in an outdoor facility. Last January, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, in a shootout before 71,217 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium in upstate New York.

In Nov. 2003, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3, at Commonweath Stadium. Then dubbed the Heritage Classic, a crowd of 57,167 braved sub-zero temperatures.

The Red Wings will be the third Detroit team to venture into Wrigley, joining the Tigers, who
Wrigley Field joined the progressive era when in August 1988 lights were installed for night-time baseball at the Friendly Confines.
captured the 1945 World Series in the Cubs’ ballpark. Since baseball has added inter-league play to their schedule, the Tigers have played a pair of three-game series at Wrigley since 2000. In those six games, the Tigers have posted a 5-1 record.

The NFL’s Detroit Lions also have a history at Wrigley, which was the home of the Bears from 1921 to 1970 when they moved to Soldier Field. The Lions compiled a 11-23-3 record in games played at Wrigley. They were victorious in their field Wrigley encounter, beating the Bears, 16-10, on Oct. 25, 1970.

The football field at Wrigley extended from home plate to leftfield. Each year a set of temporary stands was erected in rightfield, providing an additional 9,000 seats. The ballpark’s current configurations makes it the fourth smallest in the major leagues with a seating capacity of 41,118.

NBC will broadcast live coverage of the Winter Classic in the U.S. In Canada, CBC and RDS will televise the event live. NHL Radio will provide coverage for radio stations across North America, and will provide extensive digital video coverage.

The Wings learned on Wednesday that they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the season-opener on Oct. 9. Prior to the game, the Wings will raise their 11th Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters at Joe Louis Arena.

The NHL also announced the Red Wings' three at-large games for the upcoming season under the revised scheduling system. The new format has Detroit facing all Eastern Conference foes at least once and three Eastern teams twice -- Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Atlanta -- in home-and-away games.
The complete NHL schedule will be released Thursday, July 17.

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