The hearty hockey fans made this a Winter Classic | Hockey | CBC Sports

Inside the Game

Hockey Night in CanadaThe hearty hockey fans made this a Winter Classic

Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 | 07:11 PM

Back to accessibility links
A Detroit Red Wings fan coated with snow watches during the third period of the Winter Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press) A Detroit Red Wings fan coated with snow watches during the third period of the Winter Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wednesday. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

Beginning of Story Content

Most would have been content in front of a television with a tasty beverage and a bowl of potato chips. So a tip of the toque goes to the hearty hockey fans who braved the wicked elements at Michigan Stadium for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day.




ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The snow kept falling. The wind kept blowing. The freezing weather kept the temperature at a chilly and uncomfortable minus-11 Celsius.

Most would have been content in front of a television with a tasty beverage and a bowl of potato chips. So a tip of the toque goes to the hearty hockey fans who braved the wicked elements at Michigan Stadium for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day.

Some arrived at the iconic football venue to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs score a 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings as early as 6 a.m. for tailgate parties for an outdoor game that began at 1:30 p.m. ET and didn't end until 4:49 p.m.

They were frozen. But they had fun. Some had too much fun, and they will deal with the consequences on Thursday. But as much as the players were admired for their perseverance in the brutal conditions, it was the fans who deserved praise.

The magic moment came in the third period when Journey's Don't Stop Believing blared over the public address system. It's a song played at every Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena, in which the crowd sings in unison, especially the part that goes, "born and raised in South Detroit." It was so cool to hear five times as many people belt out that song at the Big House.

A hockey record 105,491 tickets were sold and there weren't many no-shows, even though Mother Nature did her best to make a mess of road conditions. The usual 45-minute drive from Detroit down Interstate 94 to the Big House was as long as 2 ½ hours for some. Ditches were littered with cars, SUVs and trucks that succumbed to the slippery highway.

The red-blue divide

Plenty of fans came from Toronto and other Southwestern Ontario communities like London, Goderich or Simcoe. Thirty percent of the tickets sold for this game were bought in Toronto. But the Canadian contingent, whether a supporter of the Maple Leafs or Red Wings, may have been as high as 60-65 per cent.

Inside the Big House, it seemed that there was a 50-50 split between Maple Leafs blue and Red Wings red. Maybe it was 55-45 for the Maple Leafs fanatics.

The latter never cease to amaze the hockey world, including a hard hockey man like Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. They don't need to be reminded that Toronto hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1967 and hasn't won a playoff series since 2004. Yet, they continue to cheer. They continue to show up.


Download Flash Player to view this content.

"As a player, you're idolized," said Carlyle, who played his first two NHL seasons in Toronto in the mid-1970s. "The players are a premium in the public, and deservedly so, where when you're working on the other side of it, the management and coaching, not so. That's just the way it is. You better be prepared to deal with it.

"But the passion that our market has demonstrated just proves to the rest of the hockey world that the value is there. And if you see the season tickets list and the number of years that people have held their season tickets and are cherished and passed on from family to family, you start to get a better understanding of it.

"There's a great amount of interest in the hockey club. There's a great amount of passion that's developed in the market. And, as I've stated before, it's part of our responsibility as this coaching staff and this newer management over the last couple of years, that we have to build the respect back for this organization."

The ice conditions at the Big House had the players' respect. It was near perfect. But because the snow never stopped falling skill fell by wayside. That was evident early. The first goal wasn't scored until the 13:41 mark of the second period with a fluke goal off the skate of Detroit's Daniel Alfredsson.

Toronto's James van Riemsdyk batted a puck out of midair for the tying goal. His linemate Tyler Bozak, who also scored the game-winning shootout goal, made it 2-1 early in the third period with a crossbar high deflection.

Snow time

Play had to be stopped more than the usual television timeouts to shovel the snow. But a clean sheet of ice was short lived.

"I talked to Pavel [Datsyuk] about seven minutes into the game," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "I said to him, 'What do you think?' And he said, 'we're being too careful with the puck, but we gotta be because you're scared to turn it over. There's so much snow.'

"It really affected the power plays."

Even though Carlyle left his ears exposed with a baseball cap instead of a toque ("I was born and raised in Sudbury and spent 18 years in Winnipeg, so I know a little bit about cold weather," he said), it was cold for the players, too. Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 41 saves, wore a fashionable toque over the top of his mask.

He also had some help from some hand and body warmers.

"Actually, my blockers really had trouble keeping warm," said Bernier, who gave the road team a fifth win in seven NHL outdoor games. "My trainer was giving me hot packs, and I put it in my pants as well to try and keep warm."

Yes, this was not a winter classic on the ice because of the conditions. But the fans made it a Winter Classic to remember.

End of Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Story Social Media

End of Story Social Media

Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.