Winter Classic should have been in Motown

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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DETROIT - It's official. The NHL should really be called the NGL, as in National Gimmick League.

It seems like that's all the National Hockey League is about these days, so much so that it messed up an event that was actually pretty cool.

Somehow, the NHL powers-that-be didn't believe that Hockeytown was good enough to host the 2013 Winter Classic.


Instead, they scheduled the Jan. 1 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings to play at Michigan Stadium. The league simply dissed the fact these two Original Six teams having been playing in Detroit for more than 50 years. Instead, they want to set some silly attendance record by using the Big House to sell more than 100,000 tickets.

It's cheap, it's tasteless. Especially since a few years ago Michigan and Michigan State did it already in a college hockey game in that same venue.

The game should have been played at Comerica Park, in the heart of the best hockey city in America. Instead, it's going to be played in Ann Arbor, nearly 45 miles away in a place not steeped in NHL tradition at all.


To appease Red Wings' owner Mike Ilitch, who really wanted the game in downtown Detroit, the NHL has set up other hockey games at Comerica Park in a two-week period leading up the big title on New Year's Day. There will be an NHL Alumni Showdown, the long-standing Great Lakes Invitational college tournament, two games between Ontario Hockey League teams, one game between the American Hockey League affiliates of Detroit and Toronto, high school and youth contest and even an open skate for the public.

This way, we figure, Ilitch can still sell pizza to help pay for Prince Fielder's $214 million contract he recently signed to join the Detroit Tigers.

Still, it stinks.

Ilitch tried as best he could to sell it at the press conference announcing the now annual event.

"We're really excited for the fans," Ilitch told reporters. "This is one of the greatest sports towns ever and this celebration of the sport of hockey will provide a tremendous positive impact to our community."


Detroit is such a great sports town that the main event won't be played here. Plus, it looks like overkill. How many outside hockey games does the NHL really believe fans want to see in their lives – not nine or 10 in a two-week stretch.

Hello. It will be late December. And although this was a mild winter, there's no guarantee it will be the same next winter. After all, Ilitch might be disappointed when people are drinking hot chocolate instead of eating a frozen Hot-n-Ready.

"We're committed to making this the best NHL Winter Classic, especially with the addition of the inaugural 'Hockeytown Winter Festival,'"' Ilitch said. "We're proud to show the world why we love 'Hockeytown.' I can promise you, there will be something for everyone."

Except an NHL game against two long-time rivals in downtown Detroit. That would have been special. That's what made the Winter Classic, a classic. It was about great teams in great buildings. That was neat, playing hockey at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in previous Winter Classics.

"The Winter Classic has become a phenomenal event,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It's one of the major events on the sports landscape and we thought we took it to the point where this event made sense. We're now going to take it to another level in terms of scale.''

It sounds good, but the NHL let down a city which has been good to sport that has faded in popularity.

"We wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing for the City of Detroit,'' Bettman said. "With the number of events and everything else, and setting up two rinks and handling this logistically – that's a huge undertaking in terms of manpower and expense. But we were committed because the Ilitches were committed to making sure that, as hosts, Detroit was going to be properly included. And we're doing it in a big way."

Still, the city should have been the centerpiece of the big game, not the side dish.

That's why this event will be good, but not great.

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