Michigan’s Big House to Host Annual NHL Winter Classic in 2014

Michigan Stadium will be the next host of the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic, the annual outdoor game that has drawn large crowds and boosted television ratings as the league’s marquee regular-season contest.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings will play on Jan. 1, 2014, in the home of the University of Michigan’s football team, the NHL announced in an e-mailed release. They are the same teams and venue originally announced for the 2013 game, which was canceled during the league’s four-month lockout.

Nicknamed the “Big House,” the 110,000-seat stadium is the biggest in the U.S. and could break its own record for largest attendance at a hockey game, over 104,000 for a 2010 contest between Michigan and Michigan State, according to the release. In coordination with the game, an outdoor hockey festival in Detroit is expected to host 250,000 visitors.

“The history of the teams’ cross-border rivalry, the nobility of the Big House and the growing tradition of the NHL Winter Classic will raise the anticipation for this event to new heights,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the release.

The first five Winter Classic games ranked among the six most-watched regular-season games in league history in the U.S. A record 4.5 million viewers watched the 2011 contest between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

The Maple Leafs and the Red Wings, two of the NHL’s original six franchises, play 230 miles (370 kilometers) apart. Under the league’s realignment that begins next season, they will compete in the same division.

Next year will be the first time in the Winter Classic’s six-year history that a Canadian team will be featured. The NHL has in the past held the Heritage Classic, an outdoor game between two Canadian teams.

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