CHICAGO (Reuters) - The NHL basked in rave reviews on Friday after another successful ‘Winter Classic’ but refused to commit to making the outdoor spectacle a permanent New Year’s Day fixture.
“I‘m not prepared to say where we are going to do this next,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters after the Detroit Red Wings’s thrilling 6-4 comeback victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field on Thursday.
”We have lots of expressions of interest and I have no doubt that after today’s event the number will increase.
”In terms of what this event represents it’s not something you can do every week ... but it’s something we know can be a special part of our game if we do it right.
“There are always things we’ll look operationally to do even better next time and then we’ll look at the candidates and make some sort of judgment.”
While Bettman remained coy about the future of the ‘Winter Classic’, it is almost certain the NHL will return to its outdoor roots again on January 1, 2010 given the event’s growing popularity.
The outdoor game has been a marketing and promotional bonanza for the NHL particularly in the U.S. where hockey has struggled for attention in an ultra-competitive sports market place.
Taking the game back to its roots has struck an emotional chord with hardcore and casual hockey fans.
The NHL certainly hit a ‘home run’ by staging the event at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
The venue provided a stunning backdrop for the league’s third, and arguably most successful, outdoor game of the modern era.
The first was played in Edmonton in November 2003 when 51,000 fans braved Arctic conditions to watch the hometown Oilers take on the Montreal Canadiens.
The NHL waited nearly five years before repeating the experiment, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres attracting a league-record 71,217 crowd to the Ralph Wilson stadium.
Almost 41,000 chilly fans then turned up at Wrigley Field.
”This is what we hoped it would be,“ said Bettman. ”People shouldn’t lose sight of the fact 240,000 people signed up for a lottery to get a handful of tickets so there was great interest in Canada and the United States.
”It’s really special, it’s unique in a way that it takes the game back to its roots. It’s unique in the way the players react to it because it’s so special to be there on the ice.
“It was a very special day for us in large part because of where we were.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez