The ongoing lockout of the National Hockey League could cause the cancelation of the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor. The outdoor game is supposed to be at the University of Michigan Big House on New Year’s Day. The week-long Hockeytown Winter Festival in Detroit would be canceled with it.
That would be a bummer for the Red Wings’ affiliated team the Grand Rapids Griffins, which is supposed to play at the festival.
“It’s a sad time for hockey right now,” said Bob Kaser, VP of Community Relations for the Griffins (among other job titles).
He says some fans have traveled to Grand Rapids to get their hockey fix during the lockout. Fox Sports Detroit broadcast a Griffins game last week. But Kaser’s not really thrilled about the circumstances.
“This state is all about the Red Wings and we’ve been excited to kind of ride their coattails as their number one affiliate. As much as we can sit here and say ‘yeah there’s no NHL so all the great Wings fans of Michigan are coming here’ there’s some of that going on but probably not to the extent that people would think.”
Kaser says American Hockey League teams on the east coast may see a bump in ticket sales, but it’s unlikely in Grand Rapids. In fact, he thinks a long lockout will hurt Griffins ticket sales.
“I think just the overall promotion of the game and not having this incredibly popular organization playing right now is doing more damage than it is any good,” Kaser said.
Kaser says Griffins ticket sales were noticeably lower when the NHL canceled the 2004-2005 season.
A decision on the Winter Classic is expected by the end of the week because the NHL would have to make a big payment to the University of Michigan to secure the Big House rental. It seems unlikely at this point, but Kaser has his fingers crossed.
“It’ll put the sport of hockey center stage and the City of Detroit too. We all root for Detroit want to see it get through the tough times and hopefully eliminate that (negative) image it has,” Kaser said.
“They’re a very proud people over there and we’re proud of them. Let’s get hockey, let’s get the Wings back on the ice and we’ll all be very happy about it.”