There was a time when the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs enjoyed a fierce rivalry, but it cooled significantly in the years following Toronto’s move to the Eastern Conference for the 1998-99 campaign.
“I feel like hate is built through an incident or playoffs,” Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary told the Detroit News. “We haven’t even played these guys in years. It doesn’t work like that (instant rivalry). It’s built over time and through playoffs, that drives rivalries.
“You see a team in the playoffs, then see them again the next year.”
Maintaining that kind of rivalry in recent years would have been a near impossible feat, but now that Detroit and Toronto are once again playing in the same division, they have a chance to rebuild what was lost.
That task will be highlighted on Jan. 1 when these clubs face off in the Winter Classic, but it will begin tonight in their first meeting as Atlantic Division adversaries.
“Certainly we want to go out and play well and set the tone,” Cleary said. “This will be an important game heading into the (Christmas) break.”