Every Tuesday in December we’ll be looking back at some Winter Classic memories as we approach the 2020 game between the Stars and Predators from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas on Jan. 1.
The Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings should have taken place in 2013, but due to a lockout the outdoor game was delayed a year until Jan. 1, 2014.
It was the first time that the New Year’s Day game was held in a college football stadium, with the NHL eyeing an attendance record inside Michigan Stadium. The previous attendance record for the Winter Classic was set during the first one at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo in 2008 when 71,217 fans saw the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins need a shootout to decide a winner.
The world record attendance of 104,173, which was set in 2010 at a University of Michigan football game at The Big House, was something the NHL hoped to top with the 2014 Winter Classic.
“You don’t remember everything in life, but you remember moments,” said then Red Wings head coach Babcock. “This should be one of those moments you remember.”
A winter storm made the trek to Ann Arbor tough for those going to the game, and fans were still entering the stadium deep into the second period. The snowfall was heavy, which was clear between stoppages when shovelers were seen pushing large amounts of the stuff off the ice. In the end, there was no Guinness World Record, but an outdoor game record of 105,491 tickets were sold to see the Maple Leafs top the Red Wings 3-2 after a shootout.
Due to the weather conditions, ticket-takers stopped scanning stubs and the league could not get a 100% accurate count at the gate.
The NHL had to agree to a preapproved accounting method with Guinness, and it chose a barcoded ticketing system. Guinness had an official adjudicator on site, Alex Angert, who said he could count only fans whose tickets were scanned, plus media and officials who came only to watch the game.
The league still seemed to have a shot afterward. At the “Big Chill at the Big House” in 2010, Michigan announced a crowd of 113,411 – even though Guinness was on site and certified only 85,451 at the time mainly because ticket scanners froze in the cold. About a month later, after analyzing photos of the stands, Guinness certified the attendance at 104,073. It now lists it at 104,173.
Those who were there, however, withstood the cold, snowy conditions and got to witness a tight game, despite the weather, which saw a 13 degree temperature at puck drop and wind chills around zero.
After a scoreless first period, the teams exchanged goals in the second and third periods to force overtime for the third time in Winter Classic history. In the shootout, it was Tyler Bozak who broke the draw to give the Maple Leafs the victory.
Four outdoor games since that Maple Leafs win have needed overtime to decide a winner. None have reached the shootout.
Among the unique sidebars to the game was Red Wings forward Luke Glendening’s experience. He was planning on watching the 2014 Winter Classic on television after being sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids three days before the game.
After playing that Monday at Comerica Park as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival AHL matchup against the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Glendening, who played 165 games with the Wolverines, was told he would be getting called back up to play with the NHL team at the Big House, his second outdoor game in three days.
The snow globe scene, mixed with the red and blue sections of the stadium for each team’s fans made it a picturesque day, despite the ugliness of the weather. For everything it delivered, that Winter Classic was later named 2014 sports event of the year by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily.
As Babcock said, it was a moment to remember for everyone involved.
“It was great,” said Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader of the fan support. “All of the fans, I don’t know how they did it, how they stayed warm. We had heat on the benches, but I know it was cold up there and it was windy. They battled the conditions and just made it an unbelievable atmosphere. Of all the outdoor games like this, I don’t know if there’s been an atmosphere like this.”
NBC will air the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas, at 2 p.m. ET.
• The snow storm at The Big House