Tyler Bozak

Winter Classic Memories: The snow storm at The Big House

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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.

From Nick Cotsonika’s 2014 story for Yahoo:

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.

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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.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Marner, Babcock respond to ‘hardest working Leafs’ list

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Now that the coaching change has finally been made, the stories about what life was like during the Mike Babcock era of the Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to surface.

The most unbelievable one so far came out over the weekend.

It was then that the Toronto Sun‘s Terry Koshan revealed that during the 2016-17 season, Babcock had asked one of the team’s rookies “to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic.”

The rookie, not wanting to upset his coach, went through with the list only to have Babcock then tell the players at the bottom of the list where they stood.

That rookie turned out to be Mitch Marner, one of the core building blocks of the Maple Leafs’ organization.

According to Ian Tulloch of The Leafs Nation, Marner placed himself at the very bottom of the list with both sides (Marner and Babcock) agreeing he had to work harder without the puck. Forwards Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri were reportedly two of the more prominent names at the bottom and were later informed by Babcock of their rating in Marner’s eyes.

On Monday, Marner was asked about the situation and went on the record confirming that it actually happened.

“I’d say it was just surprising,” said Marner. “It was so long ago now, honestly I really kind of forgot about it until the report came out. It’s over with now and done with. I was lucky enough the guys that were there with me, none of them took it to heart and they knew it wasn’t up to me.”

He was also asked if he felt Babcock’s task had crossed a line.

“It was my first year, I didn’t really know what to think of it, but it’s over with now,” said Marner. “I’m looking forward to the new change and seeing how I can help this team under Sheldon.”

Babcock also responded on Monday by telling Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman: “I was trying to focus on work ethic with Mitch — focusing on role models — ended up not being a good idea. I apologized at (the) time.”

It is one thing to want a young player to have a strong work ethic and point out positive role models on the team, but there is probably a better way to go about it than the way Babcock did. And by probably, I mean definitely, and by better, I mean almost literally any other way. Putting a 19-year-old rookie on the spot like that — a player that is in a position to almost certainly do whatever the coach asks them to do — is no way to win over favor in the locker room.

This is pretty much an extension of the mind games coaches and executives play when they try to take on the role of amateur psychologist at scouting combines, asking ridiculous — or even insulting — questions to try and get a reaction to see how they respond.

Babcock probably isn’t the first coach to employ some sort of tactic like this, and he will almost certainly not be the last (not that it makes the situation any better — it’s bad no matter who does it).

It is also not unfair to say that Babcock now has a growing list of former players that are either critical of his coaching style, or just flat out do not like him.

Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Commodore has been Babcock’s most vocal critic on social media, while former Maple Leafs defender Mark Fraser offered a little more insight in the wake of Toronto’s coaching change this past week. Fraser said, among other things, that Babcock is a coach that “95 percent of his former players can’t say a good thing about.”

Fraser’s entire Twitter thread on the subject is here.

Babcock also drew harsh criticism in Toronto earlier this season when he made Jason Spezza, a Toronto native and respected veteran, a healthy scratch in what would have been his first ever game for the Maple Leafs. To outsiders it probably wasn’t that big of a deal, but when added into the context of how some of his former players feel he unjustly treats them — as well as this story regarding Marner — it certainly stands out a little bit more.

It has only been two games since the coaching change, but the Maple Leafs already seem like a looser, more energized, and most importantly better team.

MORE:
Maple Leafs fire Babcock, name Keefe head coach
Underachieving Maple Leafs needed this change
Where will Mike Babcock end up after Maple Leafs?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Blues prepare for life without Tarasenko

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

We knew that the defending Stanley Cup Champions would go through adversity at some point this season. Well, we’ve reached that point.

Earlier this week, the team announced that forward Vladimir Tarasenko was going to miss five months because of a shoulder injury. That’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re St. Louis. The 27-year-old has scored 37, 40, 39, 33 and 33 goals over the last five seasons. He also had 10 points in 10 games to start the year.

The Russian winger has already missed two games. The Blues dropped the first one, 3-0, to Boston in a Stanley Cup rematch, and they won the second one, 5-4, in overtime against Detroit.

“Obviously we’re a much better team with him in the lineup,” center Ryan O’Reilly said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s one of those guys that others teams look at. When he’s on the ice they’re scared. When he gets an opportunity he’s going to bury it. He’s just always creating, doing something.

“It’s tough loss, but we all have to rally here. We all have to find a way to get better.”

During Tuesday’s practice, head coach Craig Berube had Sammy Blais in Tarasenko’s spot on a line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. No disrespect to Blais, but he’s clearly not on the same level as a perennial 30-goal scorer.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

If Berube wants to mix things up, he could also put Robert Thomas, who is more gifted offensively, on the first line. Regardless, the Blues have plenty of time to figure out different combinations. The good news is that whoever gets placed there doesn’t have to carry the line. Schenn is having a solid year (nine goals, 13 points in 12 games) and Schwartz, who can stand to score more goals, is having a good year too (one goal, 10 points in 12 games).

For those clamouring for general manager Doug Armstrong to make a trade, that seems possible but unlikely at this point. The Blues have already made one blockbuster trade this year, when they acquired Justin Faulk from Carolina. Can they swing another big deal? Sure. It just seems impossible to land someone that can replace Tarasenko’s production right away.

There’s a decent chance that Tarasenko’s offense will be replaced by a committee of players. Some of the depth players like Blais, Thomas, Tyler Bozak, Alex Steen (when he returns from injury), but they should be in good hands with Schenn, O’Reilly and David Perron.

If the Blues can hang in there until late March/early April, they’ll likely benefit from getting a rested Tarasenko back right in time for the playoffs. Can they hold on for that long?

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Wild-Blues from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, MO.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins host Blues in Stanley Cup Final rematch

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final rematch between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues went their first 50 NHL seasons without a Cup before winning it in their 51st season. That leaves Toronto as the team with the longest active drought, and Buffalo and Vancouver as the teams with the longest drought among teams that have never won before.

Boston has not played since beating Toronto 4-2 at home on Tuesday. So, they’ve had three days off with no travel in between games. On the other hand, St. Louis hosted LA on Thursday, winning, 5-2, for its second straight victory, before traveling to play in Boston.

Vladimir Tarasenko, who is coming off his 5th straight 30-goal campaign, left Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury. He is out for their next two games and will be re-evaluated next week. Tarasenko has 10 points in 10 games this season.

Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak continues to be the team’s primary source of offense. They are the top three scorers on the team, and aside from solid production from d-man Torey Krug, no one else on the team has more than three points so far.

In the team’s last game on Tuesday, Tuukka Rask played in his 500th regular-season game. He is the 28th goalie in history to play 500 games for one team, and the first to do so with the Bruins.

David Krejci (upper body) is doubtful to play against the Blues after skating with the team on Friday. Krejci, who is coming off a career year in which he set a personal best in assists (53) and tied his high in points (73), has missed the last three games after suffering an injury against Anaheim on Oct. 14.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins
Where: TD Garden
When: Saturday, Oct. 26, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennOskar Sundqvist
Alex SteenRyan O'ReillyDavid Perron
Zach SanfordTyler BozakRobert Thomas
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan BarbashevSammy Blais

Colton ParaykoAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterJustin Faulk
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

BRUINS
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskCharlie CoyleBrett Ritchie
Anders Bjork – Par LindholmDanton Heinen
Joakim NordstromSean KuralyChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykConnor Clifton

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Blues-Bruins from TD Garden in Boston, Mass. Kathryn Tappen will anchor Saturday’s doubleheader coverage with Keith Jones and Anson Carter.

After Bruins-Blues, coverage heads outdoors to Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, at 10 p.m. ET (livestream), when Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets face Johnny Gaudreau and the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.

WATCH LIVE: Blues raise Stanley Cup banner before meeting Capitals

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals when the Blues raise their 2019 Stanley Cup banner. Coverage begins at 6:30p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues will raise their first-ever Stanley Cup banner 364 days after the Capitals did the same thing following their 2018 championship season. The only repeat champion over the past 2 decades is the Penguins, who won in 2016 and ‘17 before losing to Washington in their quest to three-peat.

“They’ve turned the page and moved forward,” said Blues GM Doug Armstrong. “There are still remnants of last year’s success — the ring ceremony opening night, maybe a visit to the White House or the Hall of Fame presentation — there are still moments that are connected to last year’s team. But once the guys walked into the room this training camp, they don’t talk about it.”

Washington enters this season with teo of its key players, Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom, entering the final year of their current contracts. With Alex Ovechkin two years away from free agency himself, and the Capitals tight against the salary cap already, it will be difficult for the team to retain every core piece from its championship group.

“I didn’t think we would be able to get enough money to sign Carlson, and we made it happen,” said Capitals GM Brian McLellan. “I am not ruling anything out. I mean, obviously it will be tough to do, especially if they both have good years. It is going to be hard to do, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Alex Ovechkin enters this season 13th on the all-time goals list with 658. He is 10 away from tying Luc Robitaille for 12th place, but it will take a while to move up beyond that. 30 goals would move him to 11th, 40 goals would move him to eighth, and if he can match his total from last season (51), he would take sole possession of seventh.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Washington Capitals at St. Louis Blues
WHERE: Enterprise Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub VranaLars EllerT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinChandler StephensonRichard Panik
Brendan LeipsicNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Jonas SiegenthalerJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Martin Fehervary – Radko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

BLUES
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Sammy BlaisRyan O'ReillyDavid Perron
Robby FabbriTyler BozakRobert Thomas
Ivan BarbashevOskar SundqvistAlex Steen

Alex PietrangeloJustin Faulk
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with a special 90-minute edition of NHL Live, as host Kathryn Tappen, analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, and NHL insider Bob McKenzie preview the evening’s doubleheader and the upcoming 2019-20 season. Analyst Jeremy Roenick will be on-site in St. Louis to capture the scene outside Enterprise Center prior to the raising of the Blues’ first-ever Stanley Cup championship banner.

Mike Emrick, who returns for his 15th season as NBC Sports’ lead NHL play-by-play commentator, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Capitals-Blues from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo.