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NHL set to brave elements again for Winter Classic

Tuesday - 12/31/2013, 6:34pm  ET

In this image taken with a fisheye lens, NHL Winter Classic hockey game seat pads are displayed at Michigan Stadium in preparation for the outdoor hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and Tornto Maple Leafs Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. The game is scheduled for New Year's Day. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer

The forecast for Michigan Stadium calls for temperatures in the teens, wind chills in the single digits, and a sprinkling of snow -- the perfect wintry mix for 100,000 fans to feel a big chill at the Big House.

In short, hockey weather fit for the traditional Winter Classic.

"Move fast," Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk said, "or you'll be frozen."

For the NHL, the frigid elements are part of the DNA of the sport, old-school hockey for scores of players who grew up learning the game on frozen ponds. For broadcast partner NBC, the images of snow coating the rink, the players' breath, even fans bundled in their licensed hats and jackets -- all in sparkling high-definition -- are a viewership boon for a league counting on record ratings on Jan. 1.

"It's going to be even better with a few snowflakes floating through the air to create a perfect backdrop for the greatest game on earth," NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said.

The Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs have no complaints about wearing an extra layer or two for Wednesday's signature event. Fans have steeled themselves to brave the cold, with Michigan Stadium expected to set an NHL attendance record, though they'll surely welcome plopping down their commemorative seat cushions on jet-dried seats.

The wind, snow, and slush are all part of the deal for the Winter Classic, the NHL's weeklong winter carnival, that's been on a yearly tour from classic ballparks to super-sized football stadiums. The league has been pulling off global, outdoor, winter events for quite a few years now.

For the first time, the NFL will hold the Super Bowl in an outdoor, cold-weather venue, but the Winter Classic, which began in 2008, has been there, done that -- and encountered many weather roadblocks along the way. There was a blizzard in Buffalo, rain in Pittsburgh, and even -- get this -- too much sun in Philadelphia. But the league, and its marquee day, has persevered to the point where there will be six outdoor games this season, including two in New York during Super Bowl week.

All the ingredients for a classic Classic are exactly what have some fans, players, and media concerned regarding a Feb. 2 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. The NFL ditched warm-weather cities and climate-controlled stadiums to stage its championship game in the cold and one of the largest media markets in the nation. What works for the NHL may not be a perfect match for the NFL.

"New York is a great city, it's one of the best cities you could play in as far as the Super Bowl," Packers tight end Andrew Quarless said. "But yeah, as a player, you'd like to be in a dome or somewhere warm where you don't have to worry about the weather."

NHL players worry more about the drop pass then dropping temps in the cold.

"I think you know you expected it to be a lot colder than it actually was," Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said. "You're worried about staying warm underneath your gear and once you start playing, your body temperature is just going to take over and you're going to be warm. You don't have to worry about it too much. There were guys actually taking off layers of clothing as the game went on."

Kane and the Blackhawks played in the 2009 game against Detroit at Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Snow, a sold-out football stadium and Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winner highlighted the inaugural event in 2008 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres at the NFL's Ralph Wilson Stadium. In 2010, the Boston Bruins hosted the Flyers at Fenway Park. In 2011, the Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field. The New York Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012 at Citizens Bank Park.

Conditions were near perfect for the first three Winter Classics in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston, with seasonal temperatures and, in Buffalo, plenty of snow. The game at Pittsburgh was switched from an afternoon start to 8 p.m. to avoid predicted rain. The rain drops and slick ice still hit.

"It was a great idea to get outside and play in front of a lot of people. You feel the energy. You feel the excitement," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "It builds some hype and you get to have that kind of football moment where there's a lead up, people talk about it a lot before you play the game and people kind of make an event out of it rather just showing up in time for the drop of the puck. They are showing up tailgating, having some fun and it really picks up the energy and makes people feel good about hockey."

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