Winter Classic set for Big House

DETROIT -- The Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium has been reset for Jan. 1 after its cancellation this season because of the NHL lockout.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement Sunday before the Red Wings hosted the St. Louis Blues.

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Michigan Stadium played host to an outdoor hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State in 2010.

When the game was called off, the league said it would schedule the next Winter Classic at the more than 100,000-seat stadium in Ann Arbor.

The NHL said a world-record crowd for an ice hockey game could attend the annual New Year's Day game, surpassing the 104,173 who attended a game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State at Michigan Stadium in 2010.

Toronto and Detroit -- NHL Original Six members -- first faced off for a hockey game on Jan. 4, 1927, when the Toronto St. Patricks defeated the Cougars 2-1 in a game near Detroit.

Under the new realignment plan that will go into effect next season, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will again compete in the same division.

"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," Bettman said in a statement. "We are delighted to offer our fans a spectacle at which the energy will be unmatched and the demand for tickets will be unprecedented.

"For anyone involved in any way -- as a player, a coach, an official, a fan -- this NHL Winter Classic will be a truly memorable hockey moment."

In the storied rivalry, Detroit (275-273-93-3) has earned 646 points against Toronto. The Maple Leafs are right behind, having garnered 645 (276-275-93-0) against Detroit.

The teams have also played 117 playoff games against each other, the second most in NHL history behind only the 170 between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

Also, as originally planned, the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park will hold a series of games in the two weeks leading to New Year's Day. They will involve the American Hockey League, college and high school as well as alumni and youth games.

The jerseys Detroit and Toronto will wear in the Winter Classic and the ones that will be worn during the alumni games were unveiled.

Downtown Detroit is expecting to welcome more than 250,000 visitors to the Hockeytown Winter Festival, an outdoor celebration of hockey at Comerica Park.

An outdoor rink will be placed on the infield of the ballpark that will feature games between teams representing every level of hockey, and it will provide opportunities for open skating for the public.

The festival will also include two games that will feature notable alumni of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs on New Year's Eve.

"In addition to representing a dramatic new step in the evolution of the NHL Winter Classic, the Hockeytown Winter Festival reflects the love Mike and Marian Ilitch have for the City of Detroit and its hockey fans," Bettman said. "The scheduled activities will bring tens of thousands of fans downtown to connect with the NHL Winter Classic excitement, to enjoy the festival experience and to share their passion for the sport."

Meanwhile, NHL COO John Collins said Sunday the league is in high-level discussions with its board of governors, interested teams and the NHLPA about expanding the U.S. outdoor game schedule beyond the Winter Classic as soon as next season. In 2011, the league hosted both the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic, but the Heritage has traditionally been between two Canadian teams.

"It's no secret that lots of cities and lots of teams have said we really want one of these ... that doesn't mean we're doing it. We're aware of the tremendous interest. Obviously we can't ignore the interest," Bettman said regarding the possibility of multiple outdoor games being played.

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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