NHL Winter Classic will be “Must See TV.”

The Big House will be the home to the largest crowd ever to see a hockey game.
The Big House will be the home to the largest crowd ever to see a hockey game.

The Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day in the annual NHL Winter Classic. This year’s game will be played at the “Big House,” in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There will be a crowd of over 100,000 people expected at the home of the University of Michigan and the NHL will set a world record for the most people ever to see a hockey game.

The NHL On NBC crew will be on hand and they will not call the game from the press box but from ice level. Temps are expected to be around 19 degrees with snow and a light wind. Yesterday I spoke with the broadcast team of  Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, and his partner’s  analyst’s Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire who were in An Arbor. They were clearly excited about covering the league’s signature event.

JW: What will it be like from a player’s perspective to take the ice in front of over 100,000 people?

Pierre McGuire:  You know Jim, I remember the football environment from Heinz Field so well, and it was a different kind of a night. You had almost 80,000 people in an amazing hockey environment, but there was a little bit of snow. There was a little bit of rain but it was a real unique environment. I remember after the first period — I’d wear my skates during the entire game at the Winter Classic — skating off the ice and doing a skate off interview with Sidney Crosby.  The noise was cascading down on top of us Jim and at the end of it he just said, “This is one of the coolest things we’ve ever done in terms of interviews.” I said, “Yes we’ve done some good ones but this was really unbelievable.” You could actually feel the ice shaking Jim.

That’s how much noise was reverberating around the ice arena at the – or the ice rink at the time. And I have to think with close to 20,000 to 30,000 more people at a stadium that’s built perfectly I think for hockey and obviously for football, it’s going to be amazing. It’s just going to be an amazing opportunity for these players to showcase just how great they are.

Eddie Olczyk:  You know Jim,  I think for some of these players certainly knowing the history of the big house, knowing what it’s like to see a college football game in Ann Arbor and then have that opportunity to play  the greatest game in the world in front of, you know, 100 plus thousand people in a venue like that, and I think that’s what makes this game and this day so unique is that you’re, you know, you’re going into places that have an unbelievable history. It’s a different look. It’s, you know, when we were in Buffalo and, you know, you go to Wrigley Field and you go to Heinz Field and you go to Fenway Park and now you go to The Big House.

I think for some of these players the anticipation of playing in front of that many people and knowing, you know, what has taken place at – on that field over the years – now for some players, you know, they just know of Michigan and that’s it. But for some players it, you know, the impact is going to be great because they know of the history and everything that has taken place there. So I think it just – it’s on a much different scale for, you know, for a lot of different players. But to be able to come out and play in front of that many people a hockey game like that on center stage on New Year’s Day is something that will mean a lot to a lot of different players there.