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Blackhawks to play outdoors for third time in two years

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Next February, the Blackhawks will be playing in their third outdoor game in less than two years. Gary Bettman, for one, doesn’t think that’s overkill.

“I know some of you think that these games have some diluted effect,” the NHL commissioner said on Saturday. “If you’ve been to one, you know that’s not the case. The impact that these games have for the people who actually attended them in the market [in] which they take place is nothing short of staggering. It’s doesn’t get old, and frankly our fans and our teams can’t get enough of them.”

The Minnesota Wild will host the Hawks at TCF Bank Stadium on Feb. 21 in a Stadium Series game. Meanwhile, the Winter Classic will be held in Boston for a second time, as the Bruins host the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium. And the Colorado Avalanche will host the Detroit Red Wings (in their third outdoor game) at Coors Field.

It’ll be the Hawks’ record fourth outdoor game overall, while some cities — St. Louis and Dallas, for example — have yet to have one.

“The fact of the matter is, some teams are more comfortable playing in these games competitively than others,” Bettman said. “Everything we hear from [Hawks owner] Rocky Wirtz and [president] John McDonough is that they love to be a part of them. And we’re happy to have them. We’re thrilled. They’re a national draw and they get a great deal of attention. Obviously, they’re a very talented, entertaining and exciting team, and we thank the Blackhawks for their willingness to participate.”

The Minnesota Wild, in fact, specifically requested to play the Hawks, according to multiple reports, to ensure a packed house.

Hawks winger Patrick Kane doesn’t think it’ll get old.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said. “These are things that maybe you can only do a few times in your career. And for us to be a part of them, we’ll enjoy them while we can and try to put our best product on the ice. So I don’t think it gets old at all.”

The other big announcement of the day was the long-expected return of the World Cup of Hockey, to be held in Toronto in September of 2016. The tournament will include the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic, plus a team of the rest of Europe and a “Young Guns” team of North Americans aged 23 and under.

Kane, who watched the previous two World Cups in 1996 and 2004, was particularly excited by the tournament’s return — and not just because it means he won’t have to endure training camp before the 2016-17 season.

Kane, who has twice played for Team USA in the Olympics, takes special pride in representing his nation.

“Nowadays, you don’t really get the opportunity to do it as much,” said Kane, who spent two seasons with the U.S. national team development program. “I was pretty fortunate enough when I was 15, 16, 17 years old to wear the USA sweater every time I played a hockey game. And also in the World Juniors and different tournaments here and there. And you kind of take it for granted a little bit. After that opportunity goes away, you miss it. I think it’d be pretty cool to do it every two years instead of every four.”

Of course, that would mean continued NHL participation in the Olympics, which the players very much want and the league is wary about, at best. Bettman said Saturday that there have been no discussions and no decision made yet, and that the World Cup — which ideally would be held every four years — wouldn’t affect that decision.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus