ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – The venue for another game between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs was unlike any either Original Six franchise had seen before, but that didn’t mean the teams were going to play the 2014 Winter Classic differently than they would any other regular season game.
Simply put, Detroit and Toronto were too close in the Eastern Conference standings to approach the outdoor game at mammoth Michigan Stadium any differently. That much was apparent in the scoreless first period, as the opponents played relatively smart, safe hockey. Sure, the Leafs were outshot by a more than 2-1 margin (13-5) in the first 20 minutes , but that’s been Toronto’s hallmark this season.
The second period was much more competitive (and entertaining), as the teams traded goals (Daniel Alfredsson scoring for the home side and James van Riemsdyk replying for the visitors) in the second to keep the score knotted. Leafs center Tyler Bozak gave Toronto its first lead of the day early in the third, but Justin Abdelkader sent the game to overtime with a clutch goal at 14:28 of the third. From there, Bozak got the game-winner in a shootout to give the Leafs a 3-2 win and push Toronto one point ahead of the Wings in the Eastern Conference standings.
As for the logistics of the game itself, let’s just say there were some high points and some lows. The traffic entering the college town was simply horrendous and some people weren’t in their seats well past the halfway point of the second period. As well, food supplies ran out – one person reported waiting in a line for nearly a half-hour and when they got to the front of it, all that was left was beer and Reese’s Pieces – and the crowd looked dangerously snug at times.
Michigan Stadium is not safe, and is completely ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/WCIqMvKVeM
— Chris Selley (@cselley) January 1, 2014
That said, the on-ice product wasn’t nearly as bad as some people claimed – if you’ve seen any mid-season NHL games, you’d know each one isn’t as much fun as a barrel of monkeys, or even a half-barrel – and the planning involved in getting most Leafs fans on one side of the stadium and most Wings fans on the other was a huge success. Most impressively, the game set a new world record for attendance at a hockey game with 105,491 (just a little short of the building’s 109,901 capacity) in the joint. When you have that many eggs in one basket, there’s bound to be a little cracking.
All in all, the Winter Classic turned out exactly as advertised. It wasn’t classic hockey, but it was a spectacle everyone in attendance will remember all of their days. Where else are you going to get a view like this?
— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) January 1, 2014