Hawks eye more outdoor games in Chicago

CHICAGO -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was unsure of the future of the league’s outdoor games after this season, but the Blackhawks said they’d be interested in having more games in Chicago, including one at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Blackhawks will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field on March 1, 2014 as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. The series will also include games at Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium. The NHL will also hold the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium and the Heritage Classic at BC Place in Vancouver.

The Blackhawks previously held a home outdoor game at Wrigley Field in 2009. Soldier Field was home to a college hockey doubleheader in February.

Bettman thought six outdoor games in the 2013-14 season was the perfect number, but he didn’t know if the NHL would consider making the stadium series an annual event.

“Six [outdoor games], we don’t think it’s too many,” Bettman said at Soldier Field on Thursday. “We think it’s very responsible to our fans, but logistically it’s a huge undertaking. We’ll see how well we do with the weather, and we’ll take a deep breath when we get to mid-March and say, ‘Okay, what worked well? Is this is the right number? Should we do more? Do less?’ This will be an important and exciting year in terms of the evolution of outdoor games.”

Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough was hopeful the NHL would have more outdoor games in Chicago and would be open to having an outdoor game at U.S. Cellular Field.

“I think we’d like to have one wherever they’d have us,” McDonough said. “I think this outdoor game concept is brilliant. Certainly, wherever they’d allow us to play, this is great. To be playing in a historic, iconic Solider Field is great. But it would be great to play everywhere.”

Bettman didn’t believe the NHL was in a dangerous territory of having too many outdoor games in a season.

“Let’s keep in mind and in perspective that we play 1,230 regular-season games, so we’re doing six,” Bettman said. “What happens is when people can come to these games in person and connect with the game where it’s going back to its outdoor roots, actually the ultimate reality show; sports is the ultimate reality show. And we add in weather.

“This incredible combination captures the imagination and gives our fans a really special experience. I’ll tell you for the teams that are involved, especially the six places we’re having the games, the fans can’t get enough of this. We do this for our fans. My special events staff may say this is a lot of games, but we think we can manage it as well.”

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman was looking forward to another outdoor game in Chicago.

“It’s really exciting,” Bowman said. “I think back to the Wrigley Field game, and that was a real neat event. I think here we are now a few years later, and we’ve been through it. The NHL has done some more games, so they seem to get better and better at it each time. It should be a fantastic event.”

The press conference at Soldier Field on Thursday included Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook attempting to shoot pucks off a ramp through the goal posts. Both players succeeded after a few tries.