We're going skating ... at Wrigley!

December, 30, 2008
There are some obvious perks to being a sportswriter.

We've covered the Olympics, The Masters, World Hockey Championships and, of course, the Stanley Cup finals.

And this afternoon at Wrigley Field should prove to be among the career highlights.

Yours truly will join Scott Burnside of ESPN.com and other media members on the Winter Classic ice rink. We've brought our skates with us from Toronto. And, of course, we signed an NHL waiver that promised not to sue anyone if we fall and crack our head on the ice.

"I will be here watching," Dan Craig, the NHL's ice guru, told us.

In other words, no funny stuff!

Look for a video blog about it from Scott and me later today.

A lot on the line
This season's Winter Classic has a little more jam to it. That's because the two teams on the ice are battling for the division lead.

How many people would have believed back in October that, heading into the week of the Winter Classic, the Chicago Blackhawks could move into a tie with the Stanley Cup-champion Detroit Red Wings for the Central Division lead by sweeping the home-and-home set?

"It's pretty amazing, huh?" Hawks GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com.

"Definitely four big points on the line this week," said Wings GM Ken Holland.

Only four points separate the Wings and red-hot Hawks, winners of nine straight, before the two teams square off tonight at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. They meet again outdoors at Wrigley Field on Thursday.

"Our young guys have really developed a little quicker than we anticipated," Tallon said. "I'm proud of them. They've really stepped up."

And for the first time in the post-lockout NHL, the Wings may not coast to a division title.

"I think it's great. I'm excited," Holland said. "There's nothing like a Detroit-Chicago rivalry, in any sport. You've got Pistons-Bulls, Bears-Lions and White Sox-Tigers. We're two Original Six teams, and we've had a great rivalry over the years.

"They're obviously a team that's built for the long haul. They've got a lot of young kids who are only going to get better. Hopefully, we can stay with them and have this rivalry get back to where it was."

Tallon said the Wings represent the standard.

"I just think the world of Kenny Holland and the Detroit Red Wings. We try to emulate them," Tallon said. "We want to be at that level. We're not quite there yet, but that's what we're striving for."

The hockey revival in Chicago is remarkable, not to mention it's terrific for the sport and the league. The Hawks lead the NHL in attendance and Thursday's Winter Classic game will be a national platform to celebrate this amazing turnaround.

"It's fantastic and we're really appreciative of how far we've come," Tallon said. "We still understand there's a long way to go, so we have to be cautious. We're cautiously optimistic. But it's been an incredible revival. Our fans have been so supportive. Our whole organization, from [chairman] Rocky [Wirtz] and [president] John [McDonough] and the whole front office, we've all been working hard together. It's been a real team effort, from hockey ops to business ops together, to try and turn this around.

"Our fans have bought in. And our players deserve all the credit for performing at a high level on a consistent basis."

The NHL has to be licking its chops. The Winter Classic matchup could not have been timed better. The Cup champs taking on the hottest young team in the league -- that's a marketer's dream.



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