Winter Classic coming to ‘Big House’

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially announced Thursday that Michigan Stadium will host the 2013 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

"These two Original Six rivals will take the Winter Classic to a new record-setting level," said Bettman.

Michigan’s regents gave athletic director Dave Brandon the authority to lease the stadium to the NHL for the annual New Year’s Day outdoor game. It is believed the NHL will pay the university $3 million for use of the stadium, according to the Detroit News.

As part of the festivities, Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers, will host an old-timers game between the franchises, along with the four-team Great Lakes Invitational that includes Michigan and Michigan State.

Michigan Stadium, known as "The Big House," was expanded in 2010 to accommodate more Wolverines football fans. Michigan shattered a football attendance record last year when 114,804 people packed the stadium to watch the Wolverines play Notre Dame.

"Since this game is going to be so big, it could only be played in one place," Bettman said. "Even with 115,000 tickets available, we won’t have enough tickets to meet demand."

In December 2010, Michigan and Michigan State’s hockey teams squared off at the stadium before more than 104,000 fans, the largest crowd ever for a hockey game.

The Red Wings played the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in the 2009 Winter Classic, but the Maple Leafs would be the first Canadian team to participate in the outdoor game.

"It’s Hockeytown against the center of the hockey universe," Leafs general manager Brian Burke said during a roundtable discussion with his Red Wings counterpart Ken Holland. "We’re real excited; two passionate fan bases. I promise you, there will be a lot of (Maple Leaf) blue in the Big House."

This year’s Classic was won by the Rangers 3-2 over the Flyers at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park before nearly 50,000 fans.

The largest crowd for the event to date was at the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008, when more than 70,000 turned out at Ralph Wilson Stadium to watch the Buffalo Sabres play the Pittsburgh Penguins.