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Published: Wednesday, 7/23/2008

Blackhawks excited by chance to play against Red Wings outside

ASSOCIATED PRESS
An approximate view of what Chicago's Wrigley Field will look like for the NHL's outdoor Winter Classic hockey game is seen Tuesday. An approximate view of what Chicago's Wrigley Field will look like for the NHL's outdoor Winter Classic hockey game is seen Tuesday.
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CHICAGO - Dustin Byfuglien remembers the fun he had playing outdoor hockey as a kid in Minnesota.

The 23-year-old Blackhawks right winger will get a chance to relive the experience - at least for a day - when Chicago hosts the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on New Year's Day at baseball's Wrigley Field.

"It's exciting, as a kid I played in a lot of rinks outdoors," said Byfuglien, a second-year pro and among the rising stars of a reviving Blackhawks franchise. "I lived out in the country so I was always skating outdoors. This is a big deal. Everyone's going to be watching all over the world."

Byfuglien was among a dozen current and former Blackhawks on hand yesterday as the NHL showed off the venue for its second outdoor Winter Classic.

The announcement at sun-kissed Wrigley Field featured a mock-up of a rink that extended from short left field to short right and covered part of the infield near second base.

Even the Blackhawks old-timers like Hall of Famers Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito said they were excited as they mingled with executives from the NHL and Chicago Cubs.

"This is a first for Chicago, and no one will ever forget it," said Hull, the Hawks' Golden Jet. "The person who thought this [outdoor game] up deserves a medal. I wish I could have participated in something like this."

The game will feature two Original Six teams meeting for the 701st time, the league's lengthiest rivalry and a game that typically draws a big crowd to Chicago's United Center.

"We certainly expect this NHL Winter Classic will be a home run for hockey in this ballpark," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during a news conference.

Ticket costs and availability and the rink's exact placement haven't been determined yet.

"We have a few things to work out - whether the rink will be set in this configuration or maybe we'll spin off home plate," Bettman said.

"Wrigley wasn't built with this in mind, but we're going to try to make this fan [and] viewer friendly."

Cubs president Crane Kenney said constructing a rink on the recently rebuilt Wrigley turf won't cause damage.

"We won't put bleachers on the field," he said. "What we'll do is lay a fabric on the ground - the grass will be dormant. And when we pull it off, we really won't see any damage to the field."

The last winter event at Wrigley Field was in 1970 when the Chicago Bears ended a 49-year run.

The one-day transformation of the 94-year-old Wrigley Field into a NHL venue is expected to cost several million dollars.

"It will be high single digits, but not double digits," Bettman said.

Last year's inaugural Winter Classic at the Buffalo Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium - the NHL's first outdoor game in the United States - drew a league-record 71,217 fans. The Pittsburgh Penguins topped the host Sabres 2-1 in a shootout.

The NHL's only other outdoor game that counted was the Heritage Classic played in November, 2003, when the Montreal Canadiens beat the host Edmonton Oilers.

Officials considered a game at New York's Yankee Stadium as the final event at the storied park before its demolition. But construction logistics at the nearby new stadium made scheduling a game unworkable.

Instead, Bettman said the league would host an outdoor game in the new facility, set to open next year.



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