Leafs, Wings expected to smash Winter Classic record

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has announced that the Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2013 Winter Classic at University of Michigan Stadium.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Thursday that the Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2013 Winter Classic.

The game will take place on Jan. 1, 2013, at the University of Michigan Stadium.

The stadium, known as the "Big House," hosted a game between the Wolverines and rival Michigan State on Dec. 11, 2010. That game drew an attendance of 104,173, setting a Guinness world record, but the Winter Classic is expected to top that.

The league is hoping for an attendance figure of around 115,000.

"Since this outdoor matchup is so big there is only one place where it could be played," said Bettman.

This will be the second time Detroit is in the Winter Classic, but its first hosting turn. The Wings played in Chicago on 2009.

Toronto will be the first Canadian team to play in the event.

"It's Hockeytown versus the Centre of the Hockey Universe," Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke told the NHL Network, to much laughter.

Burke promised that a healthy percentage of fans for the New Year's Day game would be cheering for the Leafs.

The NHL outdoor game will be complemented by what is being called the Hockeytown Winter Festival, as well as outdoor games from other leagues, with many of the events taking place at Comerica Park in Detroit, where Thursday's announcement was made.

The Toronto Marlies and Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League will face off, and there also will be two Ontario Hockey League games, including a contest featuring the Windsor Spitfires.

The first modern outdoor NHL regular season game was played in 2003, the Heritage Classic in Edmonton featuring the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.

The Winter Classic was launched in 2008, with a record 71,000 attending in Buffalo for the Sabres and Penguins.

Bettman said that the size of the Michigan venue, and the fact the event is now well entrenched, allayed any concerns about putting a Canadian team in a game that will be showcased on NBC in the U.S.

"We thought that we had built this event to a level where it made sense to do it, and that even from a U.S. network television standpoint, we were comfortable that it would work well," Bettman said.

Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom was at the Big House to promote the Winter Classic. That raised an obvious question:

Does it mean the defenceman will come back for a 21st season in 2012-13?

"We'll have to wait and see," Lidstrom said. "It's only one game, but it's an intriguing one."

With files from The Associated Press