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NHL cancels Winter Classic at Big House

11/02/2012 4:13 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro
The National Hockey League has officially canceled the Winter Classic scheduled for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium, the annual New Year’s Day outdoor spectacle becoming the latest casualty of the NHL’s nearly two month long work stoppage.

In addition to the Jan. 1 showdown between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, all of the Hockeytown Winter Festival events scheduled from Dec. 16-31 at Comerica Park – including the NHL Alumni Showdown – have been cancelled as well.

In a release, the NHL said that “the cancellation was necessary because, given the absence of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL Players' Association and the NHL, the League was not in a position to do all that is necessary to adequately stage events of this magnitude.”

"The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today's decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in the statement. "We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events."

The lockout had only caused the league to cancel games through Nov. 30 – a total of 326 contests – so far, but the language in the NHL’s $3 million rental agreement with the University of Michigan may have expedited the Classic’s demise.

In the agreement, there was a clause regarding a cancellation due to a work stoppage; if the game was called off by Friday, the NHL would lose only the $100,000 deposit that it already paid – but there was another $250,000 payment due Friday, and the contract stipulated that the league would incur further losses, including paying back Michigan for expenses it made, if a decision to cancel the game was made at a later date.

The cancellation is a huge loss for the hockey world in general, as well as the city of Detroit. This Winter Classic was the first one to include other ice events in a different venue as part of the celebration, and in addition to the Classic itself, the NCAA, American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and several high school bodies had games scheduled around the event as well.

In addition, the league was hoping that the Red Wings-Maple Leafs battle would break the world record for hockey attendance, which was set when Michigan and Michigan State drew 104,173 to the “Big House” for an outdoor game in 2010, and the Motor City would have received a huge economic boost from the nearly half-million fans expected to flock to the region for the events.

Now, all of that is in jeopardy, and the AHL has already announced that the outdoor game between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies scheduled for Dec. 30 at Comerica Park has been moved back indoors, with the game to be played Dec. 29 on the Griffins’ usual home ice in the Van Andel Arena.

In the statement, the NHL did say that they are committed to having Michigan Stadium be the site of the next Winter Classic – whether that comes in 2014 or not – and that anyone holding tickets for the 2012-13 events can either receive refunds or maintain their tickets for the future events.

"We look forward to bringing the next Winter Classic and the Hockeytown Winter Festival to Michigan," Daly said.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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