Article Written By: Adam Wible
With the snow falling and frigid temperatures, the 2014 NHL Winter Classic at “The Big House” was the most attended game in NHL history.
In front of a record breaking 105,491 NHL fans from around the world, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings battled in an old school outdoor game. With windy, snowy, and cold weather conditions; it brought back many players to their young days of pond hockey.
“It was the best experience I’ve probably ever had playing hockey,” said Wings forward Justin Abdelkader, a Michigan native and Michigan State University Product. “It was awesome. It brings you back to your childhood days when you were out in the backyard or playing on a pond. It was a lot of fun. I was just thankful to have the opportunity.”
With a college like football crowd, it was packed tight and it was loud. Fans dressed in for their respective teams, their was a good mix of red, white, and blue within the crowd. When the players came out of the tunnel and the snow flying, you knew it was going to be something special.
Chants filled the air, as fans cheered “Lets go Red Wings” and “Go Leafs Go” to hype their players up as they came onto the ice. Snow fell steadily and as the players warmed up and went to the bench a new team came onto the ice. 10 ice crew members constantly skated during the breaks to keep the snow from accumulating on the ice as best as they could.
The snow globe effect was in full effect. As the puck dropped, the first period got underway to a slow start. Detroit ended the period with a shot advantage 13-5, but neither team found the net. The second stayed much of the same, as Detroit dominated the shot count early, and struck first on a Daniel Alfredsson deflected the opening goal. This stayed until the final minute as Toronto piled up the shots, and eventually tied the game on a James van Riemsdyk wrist shot with 37 seconds remaining.
The third period started with much anticipation and precipitation, as the snow continued to fall. A little under five minutes in, Toronto took the lead and most of the energy with it. Tyler Bozak beat Jimmy Howard on a tip in right in front of the net. Toronto would try their best to hold onto the lead, but with a little over five minutes to go that changed. Justin Abdelkader tipped his goal in to beat Jonathan Bernier and tie the game at 2. Detroit would get a couple more chances, but neither team could score as the horn sounded.
Overtime was much of the same. Due to windy conditions teams had to switch half way through. At exactly the 2:30 mark Detroit broke out on an odd man rush, but the horn sounded ending that abruptly, to some Bronx Cheering from Detroit fans. Each team would put up 2 shots during the over time, but neither team could score again.
This would set up the best thing in hockey, a game deciding shootout. With fans on their feet and snow falling, it was really something special. Both teams blanked on the first round by stellar goaltending. The second round the goalies were nowhere to be found as both teams found the back of the net, Pavel Datsyuk and Joffery Lupul respectively. The third and final round turned out to the deciding factor. Bernier stopped Tomas Tatar’s attempt and put the game winning attempt at the stick of Tyler Bozak. Bozak who scored earlier was ready to win the game and try to bring some momentum, to the middle of the pack standing Maple Leafs.
He did just that beating Team USA goalie Jimmy Howard and Maple Leaf fans rejoiced. Fireworks and snow falling created the best celebration for the Leafs in front of over 105,000 fans.
“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.”
Jonathan Bernier was just as happy, “As hockey players we’re never going to forget that. Having 105,000 people screaming and yelling for us is really amazing.”
The 2014 Winter Classic was amazing, lets hope the rest of the outdoor games are the same this year.
My Picks for Tonight:
Boston (3-2), Washington (3-1), Los Angeles (3-2), San Jose (4-1)