The New New Year's Tradition: An Actual Winter Classic
Now, this is how to celebrate New Year's Day!
It was 13ºF (-10.5ºC) out there with a constant snowfall and a noticeable wind. Classic winter conditions in a classic winter month for the northern hemisphere. And everyone in the Big House seemed to be enjoying every bit of it.
Even the hockey players in their toques and balaclavas. Perhaps that should read especially the hockey players in their toques -- quickly becoming a goalie's fashion item in this event -- and balaclavas.
The NHL Winter Classic has become true to its title and a New Year's fixture in only six years. It could arguably be said that it trails on the Rose Bowl as the day's destination viewing for sports fans, both in person and on television.
Today's game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan's 105,000-seat stadium in Ann Arbor was an eclectic mix of electric atmosphere, skilled athletes adjusting to the conditions, and the conditions themselves. What's more, these teams took the ice tied in the Eastern Conference at 45 points apiece, good enough to currently share the lead in the East's wild card race, of which only two spots are available. So there was an immediate benefit on the line for both teams.
They put on a worthy show:
With the snowfall requiring ten skaters with shovels to appear and clear on occasion, the record-breaking crowd of 105,491 fans saw things they'd never observe in a regular indoor game, like the world's best players having to look down at their stick blades to be certain the puck is still there or slalom around swirling snow drifts. In these modern times, it's rare the NHL's best need to adapt to elements, and watching them do so was part of the appreciation of this exhilirating event.
What with the surrounding festivities -- two old-timers' games, the presence of Gordie Howe, mini-concerts, untold quantities of quality adult beverages serving as internal insulation throughout the spectatorship -- the game capped a holiday showcase for a league that seemingly hasn't missed a beat since it returned to the ice for last season's race to April after a needless lockout. And to think the Olympic tournament is just around the corner to add an additional boost of strong imagery.
To virtually every player and a large section of the game's fan base, hockey on frozen ponds, rivers, and outdoor rinks was a rite of passage. Many of those memories no doubt came cascading back for everyone at the Winter Classic, and additional memories were made by simply being there. A true winter's sport on a true winter's day.