As the snow continued to fall on Michigan Stadium, a hockey game took place with 105,491 people in attendance. The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs did their best to rekindle an old rivalry that died out when the Leafs moved to the Eastern conference years ago, entering a period of futility while the Red Wings were the class of the league for nearly two decades, winning more Stanley Cups than any other team since 1997.
The game started off slowly as the snowfall caused passes to stop short, pucks to stick when players were stickhandling and cause turnovers, and the cold weather being a factor, it took time for the players to adjust and pick the pace up.
It was Toronto that held the edge when the game was slowed down, but after the Red Wings adjusted to the weather, it was a 20-plus-minute shooting gallery for Jonathan Bernier, whose spectacular play kept the Leafs in it, allowing just one goal on a deflection off of Daniel Alfredsson's skate:
Bernier held strong as the Wings continued to press the play, and eventually the Leafs came back to pressure the Wings, stoned cold by Jimmy Howard for a long stretch, until they finally broke through off the stick of James van Riemsdyk:
Ending the second period tied, the Wings held a decided edge on the shot count, but it was Toronto that would strike first in the third period, with Tyler Bozak tipping a Dion Phaneuf shot through Howard. The play was reviewed for the possibility of a high stick, but it was quite clearly below the bar:
Due to wind conditions the teams switched sides at the 10-minute mark, which seemed to provide Detroit with an extra boost, with Justin Abdelkader banging home the tying goal with just over five and a half minutes remaining.
The Red Wings dominated the third period in a similar fashion to the first, but they couldn't solve Bernier a third time, his stellar goaltending forcing overtime, which solved nothing.
Heading to a shootout, the similarities between this game and the inaugural Winter Classic can't be ignored. The shootout itself is always a bit of a disappointing ending, but for some reason in this setting, forcing it to the very end just seems appropriate.
In the end, it was van Riemsdyk who ended it on the last shootout attempt, keeping the tradition only broken by the Boston Bruins of the hosting team of the Winter Classic losing.
We can be cynical and talk about how poor the sightlines were at Michigan Stadium for fans in attendance, or how doing a Winter Classic every year is getting old, especially with Heritage Classics and the upcoming Stadium Series, but there's something special about an event like this one.
In spite of the loss, the Red Wings players were all smiles just like the Maple Leafs as the two teams met at center ice to form the handshake line, a hockey tradition as great as any. What a way to start 2014.