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 base 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 the teams will switch sides in the middle of the final period, NBC coordinating producer Sam Flood said yesterday 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, switching 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 played 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 is expected to draw more than 40,000.
The NHL's only other outdoor game that counted in the regular-season standings 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.
In a game last night:
* At Detroit, Jordan Leopold scored on a penalty shot and added an assist, Andrew Raycroft made 34 saves and the Colorado Avalanche held on for a 3-2 win over the Red Wings. Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny also scored for Colorado, while Tomas Holmstrom and Marian Hossa had the Red Wings' goals. Leopold's penalty shot came 1 minute, 51 seconds into the third period, a backhand over goalie Chris Osgood's shoulder after Detroit's Brett Lebda was called for covering the puck in the crease. Colorado scored on two of its first four shots to take a 2-0 lead 4:34 into the game. *