ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In a stadium made for football, the frozen tundra became a frozen man-made pond, hosting a five on five game known as hockey. The cleats of one traded in for boots with a thin blade of steel bolted to the bottom. Cold steel on ice that is.
An estimated 105,491 fans filled the Big House. The weather outside may have been spiteful but for the fans and players it was just delightful. People from far and near came wearing colors of their favorite team. Red Wing Red, Maple Leaf Blue.
“It was a home run for hockey,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock.
The temperature at puck drop hovered around the 13°F mark and for one Jonathan Bernier had a solution to the cold.
“Actually my blockers really had trouble keeping warm. My trainer was giving me hot packs, and I put it in my pants as well to try and keep it warm,” Bernier said after the game.
Once the puck dropped to start the game three yards and a cloud of dust became three strides and a dusting of snow.
“It’s another game that we want to get points on the board, but it’s different because we’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives,” Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner said. “People will ask, ‘Did you ever play in an outdoor game?’ We can say, ‘Yeah.’ They’ll say, ‘Did you win?’ We can say, ‘Yes, we won 3-2 in a shootout.’ It’s great to be able to say that and just to be a part of this whole thing.”
The first period saw no scoring as each team started slow, weary of the conditions on the ice the payers seemed a little off stride.
The second period saw a faster pace, crisper passes and goals scored by each team.
The Red Wings stuck first as the Detroit caught the Maple Leafs in a line change, leading to a two-on-one break led by Henrik Zetterberg passing off the puck to Daniel Affredsson for the first points of the game at the 6:39.
Ann Arbor native and graduate from the high school across the street from the stadium, James van Riemsdyk tied the game at 19:23 of the second period.
The teams made the trip down the tunnel tied at one after two periods.
“It was the best experience I probably ever had playing hockey,” said Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader, whose fifth goal of the season tied the game at 2-2 with 5:32 left in regulation. “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.”
Fans from both sides heckled and cheered as the players took to the ice for the final period.
Upon further review a goal by Tyler Bozak stands at the mark of the third period to give the Maple Leafs the lead 2-1.
“It’s a regular-season game, but you’re playing outside in front of 105,000 people,” Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf said. “It’s just an unbelievable experience as a player and one I’ll never forget, but it makes it that much more special when you win it.”
Overtime time brought out the best as each team tried with no such luck to end the game with just a goal and it remained 2-2 after overtime sending the game to a shoot out.
“Definitely it was something really special,” Bernier said. “As hockey players we’re never going to forget that. Having 105,000 people screaming and yelling for us is really amazing.”
Shoot out, Skater versus goalie 105,000 fans watching, no pressure what so ever with The Red Wings scoring one an missing two.
“You know, I try to play the odds with the ice,” Bernier said of his game plan for the shootout. “The advantage probably as a goalie, I try to take away the angles and be more aggressive a little bit and hopefully they go for the D team (indiscernible), and that’s what happened and won the shootout.”
Toronto had missed one and scored one when Tyler Bozak took the puck from center ice skating gracefully towards goalie Jimmy Howard.
“Tyler is a player that our coaching staff trusts, pretty simple. And when coaches trust people, they put them in situations where you believe the player will get the job done. And Bozy’s a guy that can kill penalties and take the power play and takes important faceoffs,” Randy Carlyle said of Bozak after the game. “He’s a reliable player.
“And if we had a model for the younger players to follow, it would be Tyler Bozak as far as the confident player, not a big guy but he gets in the way, he gets inside, he wins his share of one-on-one battles, very strong in the faceoff circle, and he’s got the hockey sense. The puck follows him around.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman expressed the sentiments of the League and NHL fans on the 2014 Winter Classic.
“The 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic was everything we hoped for — the biggest and best New Year’s Day party in our history.
“The Red Wings and Maple Leafs gave our fans, here at ‘The Big House’ and all around the hockey world, a spectacular afternoon. I thank everyone who played a role in turning this magical idea into a record-setting reality — especially Mike and Marian Ilitch, for their hospitality and commitment to hockey and Detroit.
“Today’s game also launches an unprecedented two months of thrills and excitement for our fans and for our League. The 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic will shine a special spotlight on the amazing skills and competitiveness of our players and will set the stage for a dramatic run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”
Game Notes: Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier recorded 41 saves through regulation and overtime (two GA on 43 shots), the most ever in a regular-season outdoor NHL game. (He also stopped two of three Detroit shootout attempts.) Bernier passed the mark set by Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff, who stopped all 39 shots he faced in blanking the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Feb. 20, 2011 – the only shutout ever recorded in a regular-season NHL outdoor game…….. Rookie center Luke Glendening’s appearance in the Red Wings’ lineup today capped an unprecedented feat of playing in his second outdoor game in three days. The Grand Rapids, Mich., native and University of Michigan alumnus scored twice for the Grand Rapids Griffins in a 4-3 shootout loss Monday night to the Toronto Marlies at Comerica Park in Detroit. The game, a matchup of the AHL affiliates for the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, was part of the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival ahead of the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic……… A day after signing a seven-year contract extension, Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf earned an assist on Tyler Bozak’s go-ahead goal in the third period and finished the game leading all players in ice time (28:24). Phaneuf’s ice time total was 11 seconds shy of the record for a regular-season NHL outdoor game set by New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who played 28:35 in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.