I find myself torn on the Winter Classic. This seems to be an unpopular opinion. In truth, there is a lot to love about two rivals battling it out in the elements in front of thousands upon thousands of spectators. It's a celebration of the elemental nature of the game. Hockey needs the cold like basketball needs the hoops. Without it, the sport would cease to exist. On Wednesday afternoon, mother nature kicked it up a notch, dusting the ice at the Big House with a hefty blanket of snow. The scenery was spectacular. People who normally skip the NHL, at least until the playoffs, tuned in and gushed over Twitter. Everything went according to plan. The Maple Leafs and Red Wings provided drama with Detroit tying things in the waning moments before Toronto won in a shootout. I would imagine the heads in charge of the Classic would deem the event an overwhelming success.
And maybe as a whole, it was. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said as much in his postgame comments. Keep in mind that his team lost. I have a hard time disagreeing with the man, but I can't completely stand behind his remarks either.
The play, in a theme that has plagued all previous Winter Classics, suffered tremendously. As the snow settled on the ice, players had difficulty moving the puck. Stick-handling became a chore. The pace of the two Original Six teams slowed to a level not seen since, well, the Original Six.
As a result, the chances came few and far between. The Red Wings' first goal came off a two-on-one created in part by the elements. The puck bounced like a golf ball in Detroit's defensive zone, skipping by two Maple Leafs forecheckers before Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg corralled it and headed on the attack. His pass deflected off Daniel Alfredsson's skate and past Toronto netminder Jonathan Bernier.
The other goals in regulation came from similar locations. James van Riemsdyk batted a puck in from just outside the crease to equalize for the Leafs. Tyler Bozak deflected in an errant point shot from low in the slot to give Toronto the lead. Justin Abdelkader sent the game into overtime when he redirected a Brendan Smith pass past Bernier.
Meanwhile the players the NHL would want to showcase, namely Pavel Datsyuk, who on cleaner ice provides limitless highlights, struggled to make an impact on a shift-to-shift basis. Datsyuk, Detroit's Magic Man, looked visibly frustrated by the conditions. The puck usually obeys his every command. Yesterday it abandoned him in favor of the snow. Datsyuk did have one sterling chance, a give-and-go with Zetterberg, and added a silky backhand deke in the shootout. But for most of the game his greatest trick was disappearing.
It wasn't just Datsyuk. Players chipped pucks hopelessly off the makeshift boards, iced the puck tentatively and settled for hurried shots from 50 feet in lieu of making a creative play into the zone. Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings talented rookie, lost the puck on his shootout attempt.
Over 105,000 people saw the Winter Classic in person and millions more watched on television. They saw a spectacle — pond hockey thrust into a snow globe of colossal proportions. It was a great day for the NHL. Was it a great day for hockey? I'm not so sure.
Your Thursday Links:
How the U.S. hockey team was named from ESPN
The USA Sochi Olympics all-snubbed hockey team from Home Ice
The New Guy from Grantland
No. 71: Monte Irvin from Joe Posnanski
Canadian hockey team boss Steve Yzerman close to unveiling roster from The Toronto Sun
2014 PGA Tour Outlook from USGolfTV
Philadelphia born. Raised in God's country aka Duluth, Minnesota. Give me a frozen pond and an open pitch and I'll be happy. Follow me on twitter @noclassfriday