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December 25, 2013

Comerica Park transformed to hockey central as Winter Classic fever sweeps Detroit

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Comerica Park will be the place to be later this month as the Hockeytown Winter Festival kicks off Dec. 27. College games, open skating, OHL matchups and the much-anticipated alumni game between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are all on the slate.

DETROIT — Under normal circumstances, the winter months are reserved for hibernation.

Gates remain locked, turnstiles sit motionless and the faint echo of a roaring fall crowd dissipates until the spring thaw.

But these are hardly normal circumstances, and Detroit’s baseball palace has received a wintery makeover like never before — and maybe never will again.

Comerica Park is officially open for business, and this week, business is hockey.

“To do this, with a separate location than the Winter Classic, is something pretty special,” Craig Turnbull, the senior vice president of marketing and communications with Olympia Entertainment, said from Comerica Park. “This is going to be five great days of activities and a lot of people that are going to come down here and have a great time.”

With the NHL’s Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs set for Jan. 1, 2014, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, the Wings changed things up a bit from the previous six outdoor Classics, setting up an entirely new location as an appetizer for the main course.

On Dec. 27, the Hockeytown Winter Festival will officially launch, with games at Comerica Park and attractions in and around the stadium from morning until night.

“We’re calling it a celebration of hockey,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got so many things going on — social events, family events, something for everyone to enjoy.”

On the exterior of the park, a 122,000-square-foot Coke Zero Fun Zone has been constructed and will include 27 live music acts, food and drink options, Red Wings and Maple Leafs alumni autograph sessions, a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit, a synthetic ice rink for open skating, fire pits, warming tents, photo opportunities with the Stanley Cup, and a toboggan slide.

As for the hockey action, the Great Lakes Invitational, normally held at Joe Louis Arena runs from Dec. 27-28 and features Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Western Michigan and the University of Michigan.

The Ontario Hockey League takes over on Dec. 29, with the Windsor Spitfires facing the Saginaw Spirit, followed by the London Knights battling the Plymouth Whalers.

The Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies, the American Hockey League affiliates of the Wings and Leafs, respectively, will face off on Dec. 30.

The main attraction comes Dec. 31, with the 2013 Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings Alumni Showdown.

A pair of games featuring legends from both teams, including recently added Steve Yzerman, are set for 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Ticket prices for each game vary, but a ticket to any game is also good for admittance into the Fun Zone on that specific day.

Fun Zone tickets can be purchased separately, as well, for $5 at Comerica Park.

Turnbull said ticket sales are expected to eclipse 120,000 during the five-day event, with “tens of millions of dollars” being poured into the city by way of bars, restaurants, hotels and other venues.

“We expect this to go above and beyond anything that’s been done before, in terms of the Winter Classic,” Turnbull said.  “After all, this is Hockeytown.”

The 2014 Winter Classic is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 1, 2014, and is expected to set a new world record for attendance in an outdoor hockey game with more than 100,000 tickets sold.

For complete information on Winter Festival game times, ticket prices, and a Fun Zone map and schedule of activities, visit www.detroitredwings.com.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.