NEW YORK — With regards to Los Angeles and New York, Chicago always was an undeniable option to cap the NHL’s unprecedented run of outdoor games in the United States.
“Yeah, for a lot of things,” NHL chief operating officer John Collins told the Sun-Times before the Rangers played the Islanders at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.
The NHL wanted to create momentum heading into the Olympics with its outdoor Stadium Series, which included two games at Yankee Stadium and one at Dodger Stadium, and maintain it afterward with the Blackhawks’ March 1 matchup against the Penguins at Soldier Field and then the Heritage Classic in Vancouver a day later. The league’s Winter Classic, which was just at Michigan’s Big House, was a major success.
But the Hawks’ game at Soldier Field is the big one for many reasons — the market, teams, star players, circumstances, sponsors, the broadcast on NBC.
It’s for those reasons that the NHL is open to hosting a game at the White Sox’ U.S. Cellular Field. It would make for a unique trifecta of outdoor games in Chicago, starting with the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.
“We know how great of a market Chicago is and how much it contributes overall to the league’s success,” Collins said.
U.S. Cellular Field?
“Sure,” Collins said. “Look, Chicago is a great market. We’ll get through the successes of this year and we’ll be able to sit down and really figure out what the plan is going forward. But yeah, sure. Comiskey is a great park.”
Collins said there have been discussions with the Sox — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf are “very tight,” he said — but the dialogue in 2009 at least took a backseat to Wrigley Field, with Hawks president John McDonough’s Cubs connections.
But “[U.S. Cellular Field is] a great ballpark,” Collins said. “The president likes it.”
But why stop there.
“What else?” a smiling Collins said. “Northwestern? What is it, Ryan Field? We got to hit that one. Notre Dame? There’s a whole bunch.”
There is competition. Collins named the Mets’ Citi Field and said “the people at MetLife [Stadium], where the Super Bowl is going to be, have kind of banged on the door.”
But Chicago is unique. And there’s demand for the games. McDonough called Collins on Wednesday morning and hopes to plan for March 1 starting Monday.
“We have a sold-out Soldier Field with 63,000 [fans] waiting for us,” Collins said. “It’s two of our biggest marquee teams in one of our biggest best markets. It’s a great way to cap the series.”