With falling snow and sub-zero temperatures, two of hockey’s most storied franchises set the stage for a truly spectacular and memorable event. In front of a a record crowd of 105, 471, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs took the ice at Michigan Stadium to play in the 2014 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic.
The Big House was a sea of blue and red with at least half of the fans making the trek over from Canada. Although the game took place in Michigan’s newly refurbished stadium, it had a nostalgic feel with coaches wearing fedoras, goalies wearing retro pads, and players skating in throwback jerseys.
The temperature was thirteen degrees when the puck dropped, but the wind chill soon dipped below zero as the game progressed. Throughout the game snow continuously fell reeking havoc on the ice surface and calling for it to frequently be shoveled.
The crowd of 105,000 bone-chilled fans packed into the 96 rows of bleachers at Michigan Stadium to have their senses overwhelmed. Fans from both sides were cheering on their team. Friendly ribbing between Leafs and Wings supporters abounded. Special seat cushions were provided to protect against the ice cold metal benches.
“It was a home run for hockey,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
The starting line for Detroit consisted of forwards Daniel Cleary, Patrick Eaves, and Luke Glendening, defensemen Brendan Smith and alternate captain Niklas Kronwall. In goal for Detroit was Jimmy Howard, one of the newly named United States Olympic men’s hockey team goalies.
The starting line up for Toronto was comprised of forwards Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin, David Clarkson, and defensemen Jake Gardiner, and captain Dion Phaneuf. Starting in goal for Toronto was Jonathan Bernier.
Glendening, a U-M hockey alum played his second outdoor game in three days and his fifth outdoor game overall. Glendening took the opening face off to start the game. He previously played in the University of Michigan’s Big Chill while playing for the Wolverines in 2010.
The weather caused the game to get off to a slow start as both teams’ players got acclimated to the elements.
“It was chilly but the adrenaline gets you going,” Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith said. “Your body’s all heated up from skating up and down. It’s fun.”
The score was 0-0 at the end of the first despite the Wings pummeling Leafs goalie Bernier with 13 shots.
In the second, the Wings kept up their pressure and scored first with a deflection off of Daniel Alfredsson’s skate and an assist from Henrik Zetterberg and Smith. The goal took place at 13:14.
“Henrik made a great pass,” Alfredsson said. “I just had my skates together and it hit my skate and went in. It’s a great feeling. You don’t hear (the crowd) as loud I think as if you’re in the stands but it was pretty cool.”
The Leafs answered back late in the second (19:23) to tie things up with a power play goal by James van Riemsdyk with assists from Phil Kessel and Phaneuf.
With a tied score going into the third, despite the Wings’ decided edge on shot count, Toronto struck first sneaking one past Howard at 4:41. Tyler Bozak tipped one in from a Phaneuf shot.
Detroit’s Abdelkader answered back to tie the game once again at 14:28. The shot was tipped in on a shot from Smith. The third period ended with a tie and the game headed into overtime.
“It was the best experience I probably ever had playing hockey,” Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said.. “It was awesome. It brings you back to your childhood days when you’re out on the pond or playing in the backyard. It was a lot of fun.”
In sudden death overtime. the teams changed sides mid-way through the five-minute period to give each a fair advantage. Henrik Zetterberg had a lead on the Leafs’ defense at the blue line but the horn sounded to signal a change of ends.
“I knew it before. We didn’t have much time but when I came there, I had no idea and the buzzer went.,” Zetterberg said. “That’s the rules. Nothing you can do about it. We knew the rules.”
As sudden death overtime ended, the score between the two fierce rivals remained tied. The game would then come down to a shootout. It only seemed fitting that the game came down to this. Despite the teeth-chattering weather conditions, fans remained rooted in their seats watching this intense match.
Due to the unusual weather conditions, both goalies defended the same net in the shoot out. Alfredsson made the first attempt for the Wings. Bernier held him off. van Riemsdyk shot second and Howard staved him off. Pavel Datsyuk and Joffrey Lupul traded goals in the second round to tie things up. Tomas Tatar lost the puck in the snow and ice on his attempt in the third round and didn’t get a shot off.
“I didn’t expect it to be that bad,” Tatar said. “I knew it was going to be tougher. I noticed it when I was on the blue line but you already have your mind set what you’re going to do so you kind of change your mind half way down. I wasn’t good. I admit it. I disappointed the fans. I could’ve been the hero and the fans deserve better.”
It was Toronto’s Bozak who had the shootout winner and the stadium went wild. The Wings are now 1-7 in the shootout. Their only win in the shootout was ironically against the Leafs on December 21 in Toronto.
“Tyler is a player that our coaching staff trusts, pretty simple,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “And when coaches trust people, they put them in situations where you believe the player will get the job done.”
Although the Wings dominated the overall stats, they couldn’t pull off the win. It was the fifth time out of six Winter Classic games that the home team was unable to come away with a win.
With this shootout loss, the Wings drop to fifth place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind the Maple Leafs.
The wind and weather conditions made it difficult for both goalies but Bernier faced an outdoor record 41 saves, including 39 in regulation. Howard didn’t face as many shots but still had 24 saves, 22 in regulation.
“I thought our guys enjoyed it,” Babcock said. “I never talk to my team after we lose, ever, but I did today. I just said you should be proud. So here’s an opportunity to be thankful for the experience. I said it yesterday. Life is about moments. You only remember moments. You don’t remember everything. This is one of those things.”
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