The '14 Bridgestone Winter Classic held yesterday at Michigan Stadium between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs was "not the best hockey game in terms of action," but it was the "biggest game in NHL history by far in terms of scale, and it was the best game the league has ever staged -- indoors or out -- in terms of spectacle," according to Nicholas Cotsonika of YAHOO SPORTS. It will be "hard to match in the future, let alone top." Snowy weather "put the classic into this Winter Classic, too." Red Wings LW Justin Abdelkader said of playing in the conditions, “It was not easy. But if you talk to any of the guys in the locker room, they wouldn’t have had it any other way. That’s what made it special" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/1). In Toronto, Steve Simmons noted the game was the "first of six for the NHL this season" to be played outdoors, and it will be "hard to top." NHL COO John Collins said, “The sea of blue, the sea of red, an overtime game, what more could you ask for? We’re in the business to hopefully help create memories. On a day like today, you try to give the fans everything you’ve got. It was everything you could ever hope for and more." Simons wrote the hockey "wasn’t exactly memorable, but that didn’t seem to matter much Wednesday, and it won’t matter much when looking back at this in the future" (TORONTO SUN, 1/2). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman thanked Red Wings Owners Mike and Marian Ilitch for their "commitment to hockey, to the Red Wings, to the city of Detroit, to the state of Michigan" in giving the league the "result that we saw" (FREEP.com, 1/1).
INSTANT CLASSIC: In Detroit, Steve Schrader writes the Maple Leafs' 3-2 shootout win is "what a Winter Classic is supposed to be, something special." Schrader: "You can credit something the NHL had no control over: the weather." Seeing the Red Wings and Maple Leafs "skating through the snow, the workers shoveling snow off the rink -- this was no ordinary outdoor hockey game." It had "everything you could want" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/2). In Toronto, Damien Cox notes NHL "gimmickry and ambition collided with frigid, blustery, irritable Mother Nature to produce a compelling outdoor game" (TORONTO STAR, 1/2). In Detroit, Helene St. James writes the game was a "magnificent experience, rendered all the more so because so many people stayed through mid-teen temperatures, stayed through steady snowfall and bitter cold" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/2). Also in Detroit, John Niyo writes yesterday was a "day few who were part of it will forget." The "sheer scope" of the "scene was what made it historic" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/2). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Adam Proteau wrote Michigan Stadium yesterday morning "looked like a Norman Rockwell painting" and the NHL again "looked like it had Mother Nature on its payroll." Proteau: "In the end, all the Winter Classic experiences are more about the outdoors and the tribe -- the momentary thrill of something extremely out of the ordinary -- than the particulars of the game played in it" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 1/1). In N.Y., Jeff Klein writes hockey, played in its "wintry original form, came out the biggest winner" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/2). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sharon Terlep writes under the header, "Now That Was A Winter Classic" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/2).
Winter Classic dubbed more of an event than a game because of the snow falling on the ice
SUPERB SETTING: In Detroit, Jeff Seidel writes the "setting was incredible," as there "really wasn’t a bad seat in the place." The fans "were loud," and the "atmosphere was electric and the steady snowfall created a seriously cool environment" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/2). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote under the header, "This Was The Best Classic Yet." The game was "secondary in many ways to the spectacle itself, as it always is in the Winter Classic, and what will forever be remembered from the record crowd of 105,491 is the army of Leaf uniforms invading snowy Michigan Stadium like it was their own house" (ESPN.com, 1/1). The CBC's Tim Wharnsby wrote it "seemed that there was a 50-50 split between Maple Leafs blue and Red Wings red." In the stadium maybe it was "55-45 for the Maple Leafs fanatics" (CBC.ca, 1/1). Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall said, "The experience, as a whole, was an unbelievable experience. This is something that I don’t think any of us will ever forget, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.” Red Wings LW Tomas Tatar: "This might be one of my best experiences in life" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/2). Babcock said, "Today was a home run for hockey." Red Wings RW Todd Bertuzzi: "While in the moment you have to step back and look at where you're at. It was spectacular" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/2).
RECORD SETTER? MLIVE.com's Kyle Austin noted the NHL "announced an attendance of 105,491 during the third period," more than 1,000 "more than the world record" to watch a hockey game. However, an NHL spokesperson said that that number "includes all tickets sold." To come to the Guinness World Record-verified number, each ticket "scanned at a stadium gate will have to be counted -- a process that the league said could take days or weeks and will likely result in a number smaller than 105,491." If the final number "comes in below the world record, snowy weather conditions may be to blame." Bettman: “We know we sold 105,000-plus tickets. We also suspected there were some no-shows because we heard stories of people taking more than two and a half hours to get here from downtown Detroit because of the road conditions." The world record for most spectators at a hockey game "was set at 104,173 for The Big Chill between Michigan and Michigan State on Dec. 11, 2010." But the previous NHL single-game attendance record of 71,217 is "certain to fall when the final number is announced." That figure was set during the '08 Penguins-Sabres Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium (MLIVE.com, 1/1). YAHOO SPORTS' Cotsonika noted the "sheer size of the spectacle is why the NHL wanted this Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor and not Comerica Park in Detroit" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/31).
SOME LOGISTICAL SHORTCOMINGS: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Proteau noted traffic entering Ann Arbor was "simply horrendous and some people weren’t in their seats well past the halfway point of the second period." Food supplies also "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" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 1/1). MLIVE.com's Ryan Stanton noted thousands of parking spots "normally available" during Univ. of Michigan football games "weren't available for the Winter Classic because the U-M Golf Course and Ann Arbor Golf & Outing weren't open to the public" (MLIVE.com, 1/1). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle notes "horrific roadways ... held up the two teams getting to and from the game" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/2).
MORE THAN A GAME: The TORONTO STAR's Cox wrote this is "surely becoming the year when the Winter Classic, and the NHL’s ballooning number of outdoor games, starts to be viewed with a little more seriousness and realism than the giggly, gosh-golly wonderment with which it’s been received by fans and media alike until this season." This is a "gimmick that became a popular gimmick and has grown into a full-blown fad, and good on the NHL for finding something and commercializing it." Cox: "What these outdoor games are, really, are Super Bowl-sized events, bigger than any single NHL game in a regular rink can be, and it only makes sense to lean on that idea more" (TORONTO STAR, 12/31). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "In the beginning, the Winter Classic stood as a symbol of the league's determination to grow beyond the narrow walls that had enclosed the game for so long." However, the game has "managed to transcend just being big business to become something that resonates with the players, the sponsors and the fans who attend or watch in record numbers every holiday season" (ESPN.com, 12/30).