Temperatures were frigid, snow was falling, and players were gritty, determined, and focused during parts of the game.
The crowd came in at 105,491 as fans stuffed into the Big House on New Year’s Day for the 2014 Bridgestone Winter Classic, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Dion Phaneuf and Jonathan Bernier led their Maple Leafs team to a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings, who were led by a returning Jimmy Howard along with rising defenseman Brendan Smith.
“It’s a regular-season game, but you’re playing outside in front of 105,000 people,” 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.”
The ‘one game only’ jerseys gave the Winter Classic a vintage feel. Thousands of fans cheered for their teams as they faced off under the lights of snow-filled Michigan Stadium.
The ice had been smoothed and treated for weeks in advance. Players wore facial gear to shield them from the strong winds, and benches were heated using a mechanism that was installed under the seat. It was to keep players warm before they stepped back out onto the ice.
As the snow piled up and the players got used to 13 degree temperatures alongside a half-inch of snow per hour, the players began to get a feel for the ice underneath them. The first period went by with no goal scoring, just an exciting feeling for the game’s stage and a learning experience for the players to then come back out and put some points on the board.
Halfway through the second period, Daniel Alfredsson put the Red Wings on the board with a deflected shot from team captain, Henrik Zetterberg. Brendan Smith assisted Zetterberg and gave him his first point of the game.
Players were having trouble finding the puck along the boards, forcing the game to become slower. And the puck hitting ruts in the ice made it more prone to weird bounces, which posed a challenge for goaltenders Howard and Bernier.
Late in the second period, James van Riemsdyk put one past Wings’ goaltender Jimmy Howard to tie up the game going into the third period. The Maple Leafs went on to putting another one in the net when Tyler Bozak deflected a shot from Dion Phaneuf.
With the Red Wings back against the wall and the game on the line, Justin Abdelkader made a tough play to the net, putting him in a perfect position in front of the net to put a stick on a crisp leading pass from Brendan Smith.
“It was the best experience I probably ever had playing hockey,” Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said.
His 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,” Abdelkader said.
“It was a lot of fun.”
“We talked about getting pucks to the net and making simple plays because with the snow on the ice it wasn’t easy,” Abdelkader added.
“I knew he was going to try to get it to the front there, so I had to get position and get my stick on it.”
For the Maple Leafs, the game was one of pride and something that the team and organization could talk about and build on for weeks to come.
“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 Detroit Red Wings picked up one point, but lost in the shootout when Toronto Maple Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul followed by Leafs’ Tyler Bozak beat Jimmy Howard with quick, precise shots down low.
The Detroit Red Wings will play the Dallas Stars in the first of their five-game road trip, on Saturday, January 4, at 8 p.m.
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Information from the Detroit Red Wings was used in this report.
For more information on the Detroit Red Wings and NHL hockey from analysts and journalists at Michigan State University – tune into Octopi Hockeytown podcasts and embrace the Spartan debate at www.impact89fm.org/sports
Austin Goodman is the host of Octopi Hockeytown for Impact Sports.
No goals scored.
DET – 13:14 – D. Alfredsson (Deflected) (H. Zetterberg, B. Smith)
TOR – 19:23 – J. van Riemsdyk (Wrist) (P. Kessel, D. Phaneuf)
TOR – 4:41 – T. Bozak (Tip-in) (D. Phaneuf)
DET – 14:28 – J. Abdelkader (Tip-in) (B. Smith)
No scoring recorded
RD1) DET – D. Alfredsson/ TOR – J. van Riemsdyk
RD2) DET – P. Datsyuk/ TOR – J. Lupul
RD3) DET – T. Tatar/ TOR – T. Bozak
First: Jonathan Bernier
(43SA, 2GA, .953 SV%, 28-30 EV, 13-13 PP, 0-0 SH)
Second: Jimmy Howard
(26SA, 2GA, .923 SV%, 19-21 EV, 5-5 PP, 0-0SH)
Third: Tyler Bozak
(1G, +1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 23:36 TOI)