ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - The NHL has put one of its signature events on ice.
The Winter Classic, scheduled between Detroit and Toronto for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium, became the latest casualty of the league’s lockout.
“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today’s decision unavoidable,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Friday. “We simply are out of time. We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events.”
Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall was bummed out, too. He was looking forward to facing the Maple Leafs in a matchup of two Original Six teams in the home of college football’s winningest team.
“It’s obviously very sad,” Kronwall told The Associated Press. “The Winter Classic is one of the highlights of the year, and this is something everyone has been looking to because playing at the Big House would’ve been something very special.”
Don Fehr, the players’ union executive director, called the decision “unnecessary and unfortunate, as was the owners’ implementation of the lockout itself.”
“The fact that the season has not started is a result of a unilateral decision by the owners; the players have always been ready to play while continuing to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “We look forward to the league’s return to the bargaining table, so that the parties can find a way to end the lockout at the earliest possible date, and get the game back on the ice for the fans.”
The league said it would schedule the next Winter Classic at the stadium, which holds more than 100,000 people and had been expected to set a record for attendance at a hockey game. Among other things, the event called for a winter festival about 45 miles away in Detroit and the construction of two outdoor rinks for multiple college and youth teams.
Some 400,000 people were expected in the area over the New Year’s weekend, filling hotel rooms, restaurants and bars.
“We have been holding reservations for a lot of fans that were expecting to come,” said Michael Harman, general manager of the Campus Inn in Ann Arbor. “So far, we have not received very many cancellations, but we do anticipate them.”
The labor dispute, which began Sept. 16, has already forced 326 games to be wiped out from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30, but losing the sixth annual outdoor extravaganza is the biggest blow yet for the league and its players. There haven’t been any labor talks since Oct. 18, when the players’ union countered a league offer with three proposals that were quickly rejected by the NHL.
Daly indicated that cancelling the Winter Classic doesn’t necessarily mean more games in the regular season _ or the All-Star game _ will be wiped out soon.
“I don’t foresee any further cancellation announcements in the near term,” Daly wrote in an email to The AP.
He said it is “impossible” for him to say whether the Red Wings and Maple Leafs would play on Jan. 1 at Joe Louis Arena in the Motor City _ if a labor deal is reached.
The cancellation is a strong reality check that the labor fight has no end in sight. The sides have remained in contact in recent days, but none of those discussions has led to any new negotiations. Daly and players’ association special counsel Steve Fehr have spoken several times over the course of this week and seem to be moving closer to setting up a time to get together.