Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 2/9/12
DETROIT -- The NHL Winter Classic is finally coming to the Detroit area, and it's going to be a celebration of hockey that will take place in the city and throughout the entire region. The worst-kept secret in sports became official at a pair of news conferences Thursday, one at Comerica Park in Detroit and one at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Although the game itself between two Original Six rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, will take place at Michigan Stadium, all the other events will be held at Comerica Park and downtown Detroit. "(Red Wings owner) Mike and Marian Ilitch are deeply committed to their beloved Detroit," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "That commitment has never wavered. "The Hockeytown Winter Festival is just the latest example of their passion for their city and for hockey." Some thought that the Winter Classic should be held at Comerica Park, but the Ilitches soon realized that the event could impact more people if it were held at Michigan Stadium. "Our first inclination was, of course, to have everything in downtown Detroit," said Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. "But I think as the idea surfaced and (we) really thought about it and what it means to the whole region, as well as the state, it makes a lot of sense. "With the fan interest in this market, as well as in Toronto, it even made more sense." In the week leading up to the big game at the Big House, the outdoor rink at Comerica Park will hold games from several levels of hockey, including an American Hockey League matchup between the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Toronto Marlies; the Great Lakes Invitational tournament, which features college teams from Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech and Western Michigan; two Ontario Hockey League games, the Plymouth Whalers vs. the London Knights and the Windsor Spitfires vs. the Saginaw Spirit; and more. Amid his trash talking, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke expressed his admiration for the way the Ilitches have supported hockey through the years and now through this event. "I think it's wonderful the way the Ilitches are expanding the scope of it with a second ice sheet and adding junior and college hockey," Burke said. "I think it's exciting. I think it's going to be a much bigger event and a much greater celebration of hockey than in the past. "But that's the Ilitches. People don't realize that these people have poured millions of dollars into developing youth hockey, and hundreds of millions of dollars into developing pro sports in Detroit. "If there isn't one, there should be a street named after them. They're unbelievably generous." Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said he has friends throughout Canada, from Medicine Hat, Alberta to British Columbia, who are already planning to come. "They want to come out here for a week," Holland said. They want to go to the game. They want to go to the alumni game. They want to partake in the events. "The Leafs have requested, I think, 40 or 50,000 tickets. Those people, for the most part, are going to come into Detroit, into Michigan, and they're going to be here for what, two or three days. They're going to spend money. "We're going to try to have lots of activities going on downtown. I think from an economic standpoint, it has to be a huge win for the city of Detroit." You didn't have to ask Kris Draper twice if he planned to play in the alumni game. He eagerly donned his No. 33 sweater for photos. As a Toronto native who has spent most of his adult life in Detroit, he has a unique understanding of what the event will mean to Metro Detroit. "They expect about 250-300,000 people that will be here the week right after Christmas," Draper said. "It's amazing. "People have gone through tough times, but it seems that every time you walk into Comerica Park, it's sold out. Every time you walk into the Joe, it's sold out. Ford Field, same thing to watch the Lions. It just shows you that people, they embrace their sports in the city of Detroit. Unbelievable fans, unbelievable sports fans. Tom Wilson, the president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment, said they've been talking to the experts about making the Hockeytown Winter Festival a unique experience for everyone. "Were talking to Jon Witz, who does the (Motown) Winter Blast, and also to the Parade Company about some of the certain things that were going to do," Wilson said. "Were going to set up sort of a hockey festival out in the parking lots, as well. "It will be a lot of fun for everybody." Chris Ilitch said being able to have the Winter Classic and all the surrounding activities come to Michigan is a full-circle moment for his family -- one that they can't wait to share with everyone in Detroit and the surrounding areas. "We bought the Red Wings in 1982," Ilitch said. "They were referred to as the 'Dead Wings' back then. They were the worst team in the NHL and arguably all of professional sports. "To spend the time and energy and passion to build the franchise into what it is today, then on a parallel path, to put a lot of passion and energy and resources and dollars into our efforts to build Detroit, and to bring those two things together here in downtown Detroit, it's something that the fans, the very passionate hockey fans in our area can enjoy and do and be proud of. "For us, it's very exciting to bring it all together."
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