Hockey City Classic can lead to NHL Winter Classic

12 Jul

An artists rendering of what Soldier Field will look like when it’s hosting hockey.

per the tribune-

Sam Calabrese, Bears fan, has attended three games at Soldier Field. But Sam Calabrese, hockey player, never peered down at the green expanse of grass and imagined a full-sized rink dropped in the middle.

That is until Wednesday, when Calabrese took part in the official announcement of the Feb. 17 Hockey City Classic doubleheader. The Park Ridge native and Notre Dame defenseman walked around on sod while marveling at the idea of standing on thin ice seven months from now.

“It’s every kid’s dream,” Calabrese said. “I always wondered what it would be like to be a Bears player running out, but never a hockey player. To get that opportunity in Chicago, it’s going to be unbelievable.”

The details unfurled as expected, with Notre Dame set to face Miami (Ohio) and Minnesota playing Wisconsin in the first hockey games at Soldier Field. Starting times and broadcast details are undetermined.

This, however, remains completely clear: the Chicago Park District’s vision of the Hockey City Classic smoothing the ice for an NHL Winter Classic game featuring the Blackhawks. Losing the 2009 event to Wrigley Field was a keen disappointment, and football stadiums will have hosted half of the six Winter Classic games after the 2013 edition at Michigan Stadium.

“Do I think this could pave the way to a future NHL (Winter Classic)? I certainly think so,” Park District general superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly said. “I think we’re going to pack this place. I think this, at least for one day, will rival a Bears game. I could easily see 57,000, 62,000 people in this stadium going nuts.”

Two weeks of public events will precede the doubleheader, including two days of free public skating. For Soldier Field turf aficionados, yes, the ice sheet will kill the grass beneath it. But a March re-sodding is already in the budget.

The three Illinois natives on hand Wednesday spared no excitement. Miami defenseman Steven Spinell of Vernon Hills heard rumblings of a Soldier Field game last winter while the RedHawks were in northern Michigan and asked his coach if they were true. He got a knowing smirk in reply.

“When I heard rumors last year of this thing happening, I was like, ‘That would be the coolest thing ever,’ ” Spinell said.

Maybe eclipsed only by playing an NHL game on NFL turf in the future.

“We are built for winter sports, so we have the proper facilities, we have the proper heating systems, we have the necessary capacity for hockey,” Kelly said. “I’d put us up against anybody in the country — one, as a hockey town; two, as the proper venue for hockey in Chicago.”

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