NHL Winter Classic set for Fenway Park

Boston's storied Fenway Park will host the 2009 Winter Classic, the NHL announced on Wednesday.

Boston's storied Fenway Park will host the 2009 Winter Classic, the NHL announced Wednesday at the 97-year-old ballpark.

The hometown Boston Bruins will face the Philadelphia Flyers for the annual event on Jan. 1, 2010.

In what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called "the worst-kept secret" in the NHL, Fenway Park had been rumoured to be the next destination for the hugely popular hockey event since the last one was played on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

"In a very short time the Winter Classic has become a hallmark event of the NHL regular season," Bettman said. "Our fans have turned the Winter Classic into a time to celebrate … our game itself.

"It's great for the growth our sport."

"Last year a reporter from the USA Today commented that being selected for this event is like being awarded the NHL's version of the Olympic bid," Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs added. "He had it right.

"It is [our fans'] passion for the Bruins that have made this possible."

Almost 49,000 fans saw the hometown Blackhawks lose to the Detroit Red Wings, and a year before that the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the host Buffalo Sabres in front of 71,000 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Winter Classic has turned out to be a boon to the NHL, especially in the United States, where broadcaster NBC garnered an average of 4.4 million viewers throughout the 2009 game.

That was the most since a Philadelphia Flyers-New York Rangers game on Feb. 23, 1975, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Bettman also announced that the league and American network NBC reached an agreement to extend their TV contract through to the 2010-11 season. NBC has been broadcasting NHL games since 2006.