Detroit - January 5, 2014 - When I was a kid my friends and I played ice hockey outside. For hours. In the cold and snow. We were soaked to the skin and freezing, but we didn’t care. It was hockey. And we loved playing it. We played outside because we didn’t know anything different.
The memories of those outdoor rink days came flooding back (no pun intended) to me at Comerica Park last week during the Hockeytown Winter Festival. Several hockey games were scheduled at the rink over a two week period, and the festival culminated with a double header between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings Alumni on New Year’s Eve.
The list of participating players was incredible. It was a who’s who of Leafs and Wings legends. Sittler, McDonald, Palmateer, Vaive, Clark, Gilmour and Joseph were among the Leafs who laced them up, while the Wings boasted some guys you may have heard of as well. Yzerman, Shanahan, Lidstrom, the Russian Five, Osgood, Mio, Legace and 74 year old Red Berenson among others all took to the ice in the red and white.
I stood rinkside in awe. As a lifelong Leafs fan, I had goosebumps because they were all in front of me. Lanny winked at me. Sittler smiled and nodded. Gary Leeman skated to my cut out shooting window and gave me a knuckle bump. Curtis Joseph, one of the classiest players I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, gave me a hockey card pose. I shook hands with Johnny Bower.And it was like that all afternoon. One of the day’s highlights was the appearance of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, and Ted Lindsay, who stood at centre ice for the ceremonial puck drop.
If you’re a Leafs or Wings fan, this day was for you. Over 40,000 people packed the seats at Comerica to witness this event. And the players looked like they were loving every minute of it. The camaraderie on the ice was something to see, as players from both sides smiled, laughed and genuinely had a great time. Doug Favell wore his trademark Leafs mask, while at the other end of the ice, Detroit goalie and Windsor native Eddie Mio sported an old mask from the early days. Mike Palmateer and Curtis Joseph made saves reminiscent of their glory years, while Chris Osgood and Manny Legace did the same for the Wings.
Leafs tough guy Tiger Williams was there, as was Tie Domi, who scored a beauty of a goal and then jokingly taunted the Wings bench. Speaking of tough guys, Detroit’s Joey Kocur wore the late Bob Probert’s number 24 in a tribute to Probie, who would have loved a game like this.
The bench bosses were classics too. Pat Quinn coached the Leafs , while Scotty Bowman called the line combinations for the Wings. Assistant coaches for both teams included Barry Smith, Ron Ellis, and the legendary Johnny Bower.
When the final scores were tallied, the Wings came out ahead in both games. But this day wasn’t about goals, assists and points. It was about fun. And there was lots of it. For a few hours I was back on that outside rink from my youth. It was perfect hockey weather. It was cold. I was frozen solid. And I wouldn’t trade the experience for a month in Florida.