By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Game on.
Or, perhaps more accurately, game back on.
Now that the Winter Classic has been officially given to Detroit again, Traverse City Central, TC West and Cadillac are all hopeful that they’ll be included once again in the outdoor Hockeytown Winter Festival contests to be played in the run-up to the game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The three squads were scheduled to play in the festival last year — with Central and West playing each other — but those hopes went down the tubes when the NHL lockout extended long enough to cancel the Winter Classic.
“We’re hoping,” Central coach Chris Givens said. “It was good last year when everything fell apart, for them to say, ‘Hey, if this goes next year like we’re thinking it will, we’ll keep everything the way it was supposed to be.’”
“They assured us earlier when it was canceled,” TC West coach Jeremy Rintala said. “They said we had the option to either go down there and play a game at Joe Louis Arena this year or wait and we would be guaranteed to play the same matchup.”
Cadillac actually is hoping to do both — playing Big Rapids last season at the JLA and retaining a spot in this year’s festival.
“For that length of a trip to play at the Joe, we’d just rather wait and play at Comerica next season,” Rintala said. “They kept our deposit to play down there. So as long as it’s a go, we’re going.”
Each team has already paid a $1,000 deposit of $2,500 each to play there. Each team then gets 500 tickets to sell, so in theory each squad could break even on those costs if they sell all 500 tickets at $5 each.
“You look at it and think, ‘Jeez, that’s an expensive trip when you figure in the fees and transportation,’ which it is,” Givens said. “But I think it will be well worth it for everyone involved.”
Rintala said the team has received no recent communication from Olympia Entertainment, which was running last year’s Hockeytown Winter Festival. But he’s anticipating a game date before Christmas. Last year’s Central-West game was slated for Dec. 18.
The Wings and Leafs will play Jan. 1 at the University of Michigan’s football stadium, while a list of youth, high school, junior and minor-league games will be played at the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park prior to the NHL matchup, leading up to an alumni game between former Detroit and Toronto players on Dec. 31 at Comerica.
There will be American Hockey League between the Grand Rapid Griffins and Toronto Marlies, two Ontario Hockey League games involving the four area teams, high school and youth hockey games played at Comerica, as well as public-skating sessions. The events will run for the final two weeks of December.
“Back when they offered us to play at Joe Louis Arena, they told us we would be guaranteed a spot in that,” Cadillac coach Scott Graham said.
Complicating matters somewhat has been the departure of Adam Dubois from Olympia Entertainment. The marketing assistant was the main contact for the festival’s hockey teams last year.
“I sent them an email before spring break,” Graham said of Olympia Entertainment. “And I’m still waiting to hear back from them. So they told us yes, but that was back in November. All I can go off of is what they said then.”
Graham expects to play Big Rapids again. “That’s what everything is earmarked for,” Graham said.
Cadillac will graduate five players, West eight and Central 11 before a new shot at playing at Comerica comes again.
“It wasn’t the best news for them,” Rintala said. “They missed out on it. But there’s nothing we could do about that.”
“You feel really bad for those kids,” Givens said of the seniors. “They were so excited about it. The opportunity is gone for them, but at the same time, you’re excited and happy for the guys coming back and the guys who will be first-year players on both teams who would have missed out on it, had we played (last) year.”