Fans roar for their favorites

Thursday, 01.01.2009 / 2:10 PM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Bob Condor - Editor-in-Chief

CHICAGO — The best part of the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic's pregame festivities? There was lots to pick from, including a rousing national anthem complete with perfectly timed pyrotechnics and a military jet flyover that surely thrilled all boys 12 and under in attendance (and no doubt thousands more). But it had to be the partisan and primal screams for the two teams. The Red Wings jumped on the ice at 11:45, flying and cutting over the surface NHL ice guru Dan Craig has so devotedly built and cured since Dec. 15.
Lots of boos for the Wings, in fact, enough to think maybe it was a warmup for the scheduled flyover by a couple of F-18 Hornet jets. Then Cristobal Huet and the Blackhawks climbed up from the Cubs' third-base dugout to a roar smeared just a smidge by Detroit heckling. A pure hockey moment and, in the end, exactly why 40,000 fans cheerfully filled the stands at historic Wrigley Field. Well, maybe with a bit of grouchiness. When the pregame moment came to coordinate a crowd card stunt, Red Wings threw their cards away and in the air — shades of Cubs bleachers faithful throwing back opponent home run balls.
Hockey fans buy and wear more team jerseys than other sports fan — OK, that's unofficial — and there was no letup Thursday. Hawks jerseys appear to outnumber Wings jerseys by 5 to 3 — well, that's even more unofficial — but the Detroit presence is predictably vocal and well-adorned with last year's Stanley Cup title accomplishment. There's a tally Hawks fans don’t care to acknowledge: three Cups for Chicago, 11 for Detroit.


NBC signed on to its 1 p.m. ET telecast with the melodious Bob Costas meshing hockey's New Year's Day now-traditional game with the magical antiquity of Wrigley Field. Then on-ice interviews with Patrick Kane and Chris Chelios (wishing everyone Happy New Year, save maybe those Chicago players he plans to run over when provided the chance).
The teams walked to the ice together amid provided fog, torch flames and super-sized sparklers. The starting lineup for Detroit included three-time "Classic" goalie Ty Conklin, plus captain Nicklas Lidstrom and Chelios, the former Hawk still beloved here and still playing as he closes in on his 50th birthday.
Another cool moment amid winds gusting up to 30 mph: Chicago sports legends Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard and Tony Esposito from the Hawks were joined on the ice by Cubs greats Fergie Jenkins (Canada’s premier all-time major league pitcher), Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg. Hull and Detroit icon Ted Lindsay (also a Blackhawk for three seasons) dropped pucks for the ceremonial faceoff before the puck dropped for real about 1:35.  Game time temperature was announced at 31.9 degrees.