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The Hockeytown Winter Festival has Downtown Detroit hopping with activity

The Detroit Red Wings will be very busy away from Metro Detroit until Tuesday, and their roster's in flux ahead of tonight's game against the Florida Panthers and Monday's tilt against Nashville...

So I'm not exactly going to cover the Hockeytown Winter Festival in detail (I will be attending the Griffins-Marlies game on Monday, the Alumni Showdown on Tuesday and the Winter Classic itself, so that's where I'm going to focus my coverage), but I can't deny that I've had a smile on my face watching the local news stations report that the Coke Zero Fan Zone has exceeded expectations (with all of the NHL's trophies minus Monday and Tuesday's guest, the Stanley Cup, in attendance, and Wings alums like Mickey Redmond and Nicklas Lidstrom signing autographs).

The Red Wings themselves posted a video promoting the Hockeytown Winter Festival...

Fox 2's Robin Schwartz filed a report from the event...

Many activities are taking place on the ice rink inside Comerica Park for the 2013 SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival. Friday the Coke Zero Fan Zone also opened outside Comerica Park.

The Coke Zero Fan Zone is located in parking lots one and two outside Comerica Park. The zone is open Dec. 27 - 31, 2013. The zone offers live music, interactive hockey games, Red Wings Alumni autograph and Q&A sessions, a unique synthetic ice skating rink, pick-up hockey, outdoor fire pits, special food and beverage options and much more.

If you have tickets to the hockey game the fan zone is free. If you don't have tickets admission cost is $5 a person.


WDIV made sure to post the schedule for the Coke Zero Fan Zone...

The Coke Zero Fan Zone will be free to fans holding tickets to that day’s hockey games at the Hockeytown Winter Festival.

Admission for non-ticketholders is $5 each day with tickets available for purchase at the entrance.

The event will span three heated tents with hockey-themed exhibits, interactive games and activities, autograph and photo opportunities and local music and food offerings.

Most activities including live entertainment and Alumni autographs are free.

SnowZilla toboggan runs are $2, skating on the synthetic ice rink is $2 ($5 with skate rental) and a $5 donation to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation will provide a photo opportunity with the Stanley Cup on December 30-31.

Coke Zero Fan Zone dates and times:
Fri., Dec. 27: 1 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 28: 1 p.m. – 10 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 29: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Mon., Dec. 30: 1 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 31: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.


A total of 27 musical acts representing a variety of genres will entertain fans throughout the run of the Coke Zero Fan Zone appearing on two stages, one in the Molson Hockey House and the other in the Detroit Red Wings Experience.

Leading the way are pop favorites Killer Flamingos and pop-rocker Stewart Francke on December 27, polka-rock band Polish Muslims and rock/punk sensation Kaleido on December 28, blues/rocker Laith al Saadi and Canadian pop/rock singer-songwriter Jody Raffoul on December 29, veteran entertainers Persuasion and popular R&B/soul/blues singer Thornetta Davis on December 30, and funk band Big Pappa & The Machine and country music performer David Shelby on December 31.

Stanley Cup photos:

As hockey is a major theme of the Coke Zero Fan Zone, the sport’s major prize – the Stanley Cup – will appear for photos with fans the final two days of the event on December 30-31.

Each of the two days, Phil Pritchard, known as the “Keeper of the Cup” will take to the Molson Hockey House Stage to share his stories and experiences with the Cup. On December 31, Pritchard will be joined by Red Wings Alumnus Chris Chelios. World-famous goalie mask painter David Arrigo will be painting Hockeytown Winter Festival-themed masks and a giant mural from inside the Detroit Red Wings Experience tent. In addition, fans will be able to participate in a variety of interactive hockey-themed activities including Bubble Hockey, Mini-Sticks and Hardest Shot, as well as competing on a full-size street hockey rink.

Other hockey-related activities perfect for photo opportunities include touring the Hockey Hall of Fame tent featuring all of the NHL trophies and visiting replica locker room set-ups of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs.


Some of Detroit’s area restaurants will be on-site offering a variety of well-rounded food offerings far from the realm of traditional hockey rink fare. The Palm Palace, offering chicken shwarma, ground lamb sandwiches and Mediterranean pizza pockets, will be situated in the Molson Hockey House. Fans can find the Jackson Five-Star kiosk, featuring Italian, Polish and pulled pork sandwiches along with Southern fried fish, in the Detroit Red Wings Experience tent. Vintage Catering, known for its amazing smoked turkey legs, and the Polish Village Café, showcasing their fresh take on traditional Polish dishes, can be found in the Hockey Hall of Fame tent.

WXYZ's Tara Edwards filed a report...

There is plenty for little and big kids to do at the 2013 SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival  at Comerica Park.

"The Fanzone is sort of a celebration of hockey,” said Tom Wilson, president of Olympia Entertainment.  “It's good for kids all ages - really."

Some families have already been skating on synthetic ice.

"We have two weeks off of school,” said Traci Parson, a mother from Leonard.  “So we decide to come down here and have some fun outside and try to skate."

The event covers more than 100,000 square feet with all things hockey and all things fun. It will be held every day up until New Year’s Eve in conjunction with the Winter Classic, taking place at the University of Michigan stadium.

The Detroit News's Lauren Abdul-Razzaq penned an article about the event...

Nancy and Gary Hynous of Eastpointe didn’t have tickets to the Great Lakes Invitational or the Winter Classic between the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that didn’t stop them from heading downtown to Comerica Park to check out the festivities surrounding the hockey games.

“It’s awesome, just another plus for Detroit,” Gary Hynous said of the Hockeytown Winter Festival, which opened today outside Comerica Park.

The National Hockey League is holding the Winter Classic outdoor game New Year’s Day at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, while Comerica Park hosts the annual college hockey tournament today and Saturday with the hockey teams from Michigan State, the University of Michigan, Michigan Tech and Western Michigan. The Red Wings-Maple Leafs alumni game will be held at the ballpark on New Year’s Eve.

The Hynouses were among hundreds checking out the fan zone outside of the ballpark, which included an exhibit from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, autographs with Red Wings alumni and areas where fans could play street hockey.


Inside the Hall of Fame exhibit tent, Red Wings alumi and color comentator Mickey Redmond signed autographs for fans, while dozens of others filed past tables piled with trophies presented to the league’s best players and teams. Outside, there were areas for people to test their slapshot speed, play small-scale pickup games and put on pads and mask and block shots like a goalie.

D.J. Loney of Canton, who used to play hockey, took the high-powered shots and successfully blocked all but five. He and his girlfriend Brittany Zeches of Westland, who used to play hockey for Adrian College’s team, got tickets to the Great Lakes Invitational game, but weren’t expecting all of the extras.

“We skated down here last Friday and they were just setting all of this up,” said Zeches, a die-hard Red Wings fan who says she will stick by her team even through the “rebuilding process.”

MLive's Brianne Bowen posted a photo gallery...

And I'm not the biggest Terry Foster fan, but the Detroit News columnist and 97.1 the Ticket host duly notes that this event speaks to the hard work that the Red Wings and Mike Ilitch put into bringing this event here--and to ensure that Ann Arbor wouldn't reap all of the rewards of the Winter Classic:

All this, however, never would have happened if Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and his wife Marian didn’t push for the NHL to include Detroit in the Winter Classic. NHL officials wanted everything to take place in Ann Arbor.

But the Ilitch family wanted Detroit to benefit from the NHL’s showcase.

“This definitely would not be happening if not for Mr. I,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “This is the compromise or solution. Mr. Ilitch wanted two weeks of energy in Detroit.”

The energy is definitely there.

And you can thank Mike Ilitch. He could have given in to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and taken the festivities to Ann Arbor. But, Ilitch wanted to promote downtown Detroit.

“I think this is more about helping the city,” former Red Wings forward Dino Ciccarelli said. “I think it has been a big success. You see everybody down there excited to be a part of it.”

Teams from as far away as Alaska have skated on the Comerica Park rink. Normally, the Winter Classic doesn’t have two outdoor rinks. But this year, it was possible because two stadiums were used — Comerica Park and Michigan Stadium.

“Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch wanted to bring the pulse of the city to Winterfest,” Holland said.

Update: The Free Press's Jeff Seidel's column about Friday's events made me smile:

In the spirit of journalism, wanting tell the complete story around Comerica, I felt it was important to go into the Molson beer tent. Just to, you know, report about it.

And that’s when I saw something funny.

John Wells had a huge smile as he ran up to two Molson models and posed with them for a picture.

“We bring him out once a year,” one of his friends said, laughing.

As John Wells stood with the models, Nancy Wells, his wife of 25 years, took the picture.

“I don’t care,” Nancy said, smiling.

“I think this is great,” John said.

I think he meant the entire event, not just the models. The hockey games will continue through Tuesday afternoon at Comerica Park.

“With everything that is going on in Detroit, the bankruptcy, this is the perfect event,” John Wells said. “It brings people to town and they will all have fun.”



The main event is still taking place in Ann Arbor, however--as Pro Hockey Talk's Jason Brough noted, you can expect a high of somewhere around 14-19 degrees on Wednesday--and NHL.com's Corey Masisak reported that NHL facilities manager Dan Craig and crew were putting the finishing touches on Michigan Stadium's ice surface today:

It was quiet enough inside Michigan Stadium at about 10 p.m. Friday to hear water being sprayed near the other side of the ice surface.

There were seven people in the bowl of the stadium at the time, and six of them were putting down the lines, faceoff circles and goal creases that turn a sheet of ice with boards into a hockey rink for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

A sunny day meant a long night and early morning for members of Dan Craig's rink-building crew.

"This is normal," said Craig, the NHL Facilities Operations Manager. "We were supposed to start spraying white [paint] at 10 [a.m.] and be ready to do lines at 2 [p.m.]. Instead, we started at 4 and we were ready to [start] doing lines at 8. It is what it is. Mother Nature dictates what you do. Don't argue, just run with it."

The day began with Craig's crew cleaning off the ice with shovels then fine-tuning it with some hot water to burn off the remaining frost. Just as they were about to prepare to spray white paint on the surface, the sun came out of the clouds.


Several coats of white paint were applied to the ice as dusk turned to night, then Craig split his staff in half, sending some back to the hotel for rest and an early wake-up call while others stayed behind and prepared to do some well-known stenciling.

Those who stayed would put all of the lines and markings of an NHL rink down first, and eventually the logos for the Winter Classic. Their shift was expected to last into the early morning, with the rest of crew expected back on site at 4 a.m. Saturday.

The NHL's both updated its time-lapse video of rink construction...

And as of the time I'm writing this--4 AM on Saturday--the NHL's live webcam shows the rink crew working on the logos and faceoff circles:

Masisak finally published an official NHL.com article addressing the fact that parking is going to be a pain in the ass for everyone attending the Winter Classic...

One thing the Big House is not known for is an abundance of nearby parking.

A popular option for parking at Michigan football games are the driveways and front yards of Ann Arbor residences. That's a viable option on a nice fall day, but maybe not so on a potentially snowy one in the middle of winter.

Finding alternative parking options is just one of the challenges NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli has dealt with in the days before the League's marquee day on the regular-season calendar.

"We have Pioneer High School across the street, which has about 5,000 spaces," Renzulli told NHL.com. "I'm not sure how much we'll lose with the snow. I think some of these [local residents] will shovel their front lawns or hope it gets warm enough to melt it for parking. We have all the parking garages downtown that the city runs. We're running a shuttle from Briarwood Mall, which the [Ann Arbor Transportation Authority], the bus company that runs around campus ... they don't run on holidays so we are replicating their system. If you park over there, it is going to cost $4 to ride the bus over here roundtrip. We're trying to all the things that we can to help people find parking, especially the ones coming out of Toronto that may have never been here.

"We've built towers at all of the gates because there's going to be a lot of people who haven't been here before. Fans aren't going to be able to park on people's lawns like they do for football games, so when they come out of the stadium, where do they go? We've got like 35,000 people coming from Toronto, so we're building towers at each of the four main gates that will be big with colors on them. All of the parking lots we have downtown, there is a tear-off map like, 'You are here.' If you come out of the stadium, hopefully we can get you in the direction of the right tower and then in the right direction of your car. There's not a lot of parking near the stadium."

Masisak continues and notes that yes, there will be Beer at the Big House for the first time ever...

And the Toronto Sun's John Kyrk penned an article wondering, "What makes the Big House so unique, and so special?" as a historian:

I know so much about Michigan Stadium not because, to all of my family's everlasting fascination and chagrin, I have lived and died by the exploits of the Wolverines since age 10. (Or at least until the dying became too frequent late last decade.)

But rather because, as my boss is aware, I know more about the history of "The Hole That Yost Dug" than almost everybody.

Over the past 23 years, in researching history books, articles and even one speech to the University of Michigan Board of Regents, I've seen the Michigan Stadium blueprints. I've seen the cost sheets. I've seen the architect's correspondences with the Father of Michigan Football, the iconic coach and athletic director Fielding H. Yost, whose brainchild was Michigan Stadium.

I know how it was built, and how it got to be built.

It's a special place. And that isn't just my old Maize and Blue Meeechigan heart saying that.

Yost conceived the stadium out of the two things that have fuelled NCAA arms races for more than a century: self-convinced necessity and sheer athletic jealousy.

By 1925 Yost finally had restored the Wolverines' pre-eminence on the field nearly to the level he'd enjoyed in his first five years in Ann Arbor, 1901-05 -- when his famous "Point-a-Minute" juggernauts went 55-0-1 and outscored the opposition 2,842-40, before losing to the University of Chicago 2-0 in the last important American football game played before legalization of the forward pass.

He continues at extensive length, and Kyrk's article is intriguing...



But NHL.com's Masisak will close this entry out with a "what it's all really about" (aside from making oodles of money) article:

There were about 250 people in the stands at Michigan Stadium on Thursday and Friday, all of whom were charged with placing more than 100,000 seat cushions on the bleachers for the Bridgestone 2014 NHL Winter Classic.

Among this collection of workers were 16 kids wearing neon green touques, which made them easy to spot from anywhere in the stadium. These teenagers live in Lansing, Mich., an hour drive from the Big House, but they have come much farther than that.

All of the kids in this group are refugees from Africa. They came to Lansing from a variety of countries, and once they made that long journey, they all met Pete Lemmer, a lawyer who volunteers as a youth sports coach.

"These kids are from all over Africa," Lemmer told NHL.com. "Burundi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Somalia are all represented in these 16 kids. We got them all green hats so we could keep track of them and find them.

"My brother-in-law saw an ad in the paper for some part-time laborers. We've been coaching these kids, who are refugees in the Lansing area, for the last three years through St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Now they are growing up and it is like, 'OK, what are they going to do? They're not going to play basketball all their lives, so they need to learn to work.' We thought, 'Let's see if we could hook them up with this part-time gig.' It's worked out pretty well for us."

Masisak continues, and his article's more than worth your time.




The Hockeytown Winter Festival and the Winter Classic are of course about making money first and foremost--tons and tons of money, and bringing commerce to Detroit and Ann Arbor--but hockey fans are much more than walking dollar signs, and for a few days, the Hockeytown Winter Festival, the Coke Zero Fan Zone and all of the other fan-friendly activities are showing that the Wings and the NHL can actually treat fans like people whlie bringing some joy and "giving back" to the mix.

That's pretty damn awesome, and seeing Downtown Detroit hum with activity not seen since the 2006 Super Bowl, especially after all of the struggles we've gone through due to the auto companies' issues, the economic cratering the state experienced between 2004 and 2012 and of course Detroit's bankruptcy...It's good to see. Very good to see.

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.