IN BRIEF | NATION & WORLD


NHL hopes bigger Winter Classic is better

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As the novelty of playing hockey outdoors seems to be wearing off, the NHL is hoping bigger is better at the Winter Classic.

The league has been playing at least one game outdoors annually since 2008 other than last season because of the lockout. The popularity of the concept is being tested by putting six games in the elements this season.

With a lot more fans and two Original Six teams, including one from Canada for the first time, the NHL is confident the 2014 Winter Classic will be different.

“Those are two distinguishing factors,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “It’ll be special.”

The league said 105,500 tickets have been sold for the game today between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium. That almost doubles the average of 53,045 spectators who watched the first five Winter Classics.

If every person who paid for a ticket braves temperatures in the teens on a snowy afternoon, a record will be broken.

In the same football stadium, known as the Big House, Michigan and Michigan State set a hockey attendance record of 104,173 in 2010.

“If you haven’t been to a football Saturday here, then you should put it on your bucket list,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Tuesday after a brief practice. “It’s the best sporting event. I’ve been to the Olympic Games, the World Series, the Stanley Cup. This is probably the best sporting event I’ve ever been to, bar none.

“Can it transfer into hockey? I assume it can.”

Some players will borrow a practice from football, putting eye black on their cheeks to help cope with glare.

“I remember back to Wrigley Field (in the 2009 Winter Classic), I thought it looked kind of silly when guys were doing it,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said with black smudges under both eyes. “But it does actually help.”

Iowa State, Michigan coach Johnny Orr dies

DES MOINES, Iowa — Longtime former basketball coach Johnny Orr has died at 86.

His death was confirmed Tuesday by Iowa State, where Orr led the Cyclones to a school-record 218 wins from 1980 until 1994.

Orr spent 29 seasons as a Division I coach. Twelve of them were at Michigan, where he guided the Wolverines to the national title game in 1976. He spent three seasons at Massachusetts.

He finished with a record of 466-346 and 10 NCAA tournament appearances.

Orr, who was born in Taylorville, Ill., is survived by his wife, Romie, and daughters Jennifer, Leslie and Rebecca.

Small improvement for Schumacher

GRENOBLE, France — Michael Schumacher underwent a second surgery after a brain scan showed small, “surprising” signs of improvement, but grim doctors said Tuesday they could offer no insight into the prognosis for the Formula One champion.

Schumacher, who turns 45 on Friday, suffered critical head injuries when he fell and struck a rock Sunday while skiing on a family vacation in the French Alps. His manager confirmed that the accident cracked his helmet, which doctors credited for giving him a chance at survival.

Schumacher’s condition stabilized somewhat after the second surgery, but he remains in a medically induced coma — and doctors gave no prediction on how long that would last.

“We cannot tell you any more about the future,” said Gerard Saillant, a surgeon and friend of the family who is in Grenoble. Saillant said it would be “stupid” to make any predictions about Schumacher’s recovery.

Top seeds win first-round matches in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar — Top seed Rafael Nadal, second seed David Ferrer and third seed Andy Murray opened the new tennis season with first-round wins on the last day of 2013.

Murray had the easiest path to victory on New Year’s Eve, barely breaking a sweat during his 6-0, 6-0 win over 2,129th-ranked Qatari wild-card recipient Mousa Shanan Zayed.

The match took all of 37-minutes and Murray hit the practice courts afterwards for a little extra court time.

“Yeah, it was pretty easy,” Murray said of the match. “It’s kind of a tough situation. It’s not something you’re really looking forward to, but you just have to try and play and concentrate.

“In terms of feeling sorry for him, not really. I mean, after the match but not during it.”

Nadal breezed through the opening set, but was tested in the second set by Lukas Rosol before the world No. 1 secured a 6-2, 7-6 (7) win on his fifth match point of the tiebreaker.

Serena opens season with a victory

BRISBANE, Australia — Serena Williams’ first competitive match of the season, on New Year’s Eve, was by no means perfect, but a 6-4, 6-4 win over Andrea Petkovic at the Brisbane International was a decent start against a player with a career-high ranking of No. 9.

Top-ranked Williams was understandably below her best after the offseason. She did a quick little dance behind the baseline in the first set to remind herself to move her feet, and after a complete air swing at the net in the second set, she smiled ruefully and drew in some long, deep breaths.

She also netted a service return on her first match point, but still did enough to progress.

By wire sources