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Winter Classic Wind Will Be Evened Out

12/16/2008 10:25 AM

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Those capricious winds at Wrigley Field that make baseballs do crazy things could be a factor on New Year's Day when hockey takes over the home of the Chicago Cubs.

But when the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings meet on a rink that will stretch from first to third base, neither team will have an advantage in the third period -even if it's a blustery and cold day.

That's because they'll switch sides in the middle of the final period, NBC coordinating producer Sam Flood said Monday during a conference call promoting the network's coverage of the Winter Classic.

"I know that plan is in place for this game, so if those Wrigley winds are blowing out to right field, they will flip the teams' direction after the halfway point of the third period," he said.

Last year when the Winter Classic was played in snowy conditions at Orchard Park, N.Y., the teams did the same. They switched ends in the third period, with a buzzer going off at the 10-minute mark stopping play.

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. This year's game at Wrigley Field is expected to draw more than 40,000.

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.

Last year's Winter Classic earned NBC a 2.6 overnight rating and a 5 share, the best overnight NHL regular-season rating in more than a decade.

The Red Wings, the defending Stanley Cup champions, will be playing at the same time on New Year's Day as the Capital One Bowl that features Michigan State against Georgia in Orlando, Fla.

Asked if he was concerned that the Spartans' bowl appearance might cut into Michigan viewers who would normally watch the Red Wings, Flood said he wasn't worried.

"Last time I checked Detroit was called "Hockey Town," right?" he said.

"So I am fully confident that "Hockey Town" is going to be there for the hockey game. And more importantly, you can't see the Red Wings playing outdoors every day."