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After successful ’12 Winter Classic, who will contend for ’13?

NHLBy all measures yesterday’s Winter Classic was a hit for both players and fans. Where will the NHL hold the 2013 game?

The game has morphed nicely into a longer event with plenty of high-school, college and pro matches, with 46,967 showing up yesterday to the Rangers-Flyers game and 45,000 or so showing up to the alumni game. Those fans were treated to the sight of 66-year-old Bernie Parent shining in goal.

So with the Winter Classic becoming an important cog in the NHL marketing machine, the choice of where to host next year’s game becomes even more important. Here are some thoughts about next year’s game site.

Though the NHL has held the game at a football stadium, we hear the preference in league circles is to find a ballpark for hosting the event. It’s really a matter of scheduling: with the NFL season easily spilling into the New Year, most NFL venues must keep their calendar clear for possible playoff games. If the Winter Classic is a one-day affair, that’s one thing; if it continues as a week-plus event, an NFL venue becomes highly unlikely. A college football stadium could also work; Michigan Stadium has hosted outdoor hockey games in the past with great success.

You’ve got to believe Detroit will be a strong contender to host the game. There’s consensus in many NHL circles that it’s time for a Western Conference team to host the game, and Detroit would be a great fit. First, Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns the Detroit Tigers and holds the lease on Comerica Park, a venue built for cold weather. Second, the NHL also has a soft spot for those Original Six teams, and putting a game in Detroit would continue that trend.

If it doesn’t work out in Detroit — something that’s becoming somewhat of an inevitability, apparently — the NHL does have some good fallback options. It’s been an amazing comeback for pro hockey in Minnesota, and a good way to reward the Wild organization would be a game at Target Field, maybe even conjunction with the Wild’s popular Hockey Day Minnesota promotion. Target Field is built for cold weather, and we’re guessing the Minnesota Twins would love the opportunity to host the game.

One other option for 2014 or beyond: Nationals Park, the home of the Washington Nationals, where the Capitals would play host.

The New York Yankees are committed to the Pinstripe Bowl through 2013, which precludes the option of hosting the game at Yankee Stadium for the next few years. Given the commitment by the team to hosting college football in the fall, we don’t think the game will land in the Big Apple any time soon; league officials say they’ve looked at Citi Field, MetLife Stadium and the Yale Bowl as well, but so far they’re out of the running.

At some point, the league will decide a Canadian city is worthy of consideration; the Heritage Classic (held only twice) really isn’t a suitable alternative north of the border. The thing is, the larger Canadian cities really don’t have  good outdoor venues: the CFL plays indoors in Toronto and at a smaller stadium in Montreal. You could host at an MLS soccer venue like BMO Field, but the capacity — only 23,000 — really isn’t at a level that would interest NHL officials. And we don’t think the NHL is ready to host such an important event in Winnipeg or Edmonton.

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About Kevin Reichard

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