"I grew up a Blackhawks fan so, deep down, I like to see Chicago hockey back on the map. And for (Chicago) and Detroit, it's a rivalry that's been waiting, I think, to be rekindled and now, because of Chicago's recent success, it has."
-- Brett Lebda
But those childhood allegiances certainly took a back seat Thursday when his Detroit Red Wings visited Wrigley Field for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 showdown against the Hawks.
"I grew up a Blackhawks fan so, deep down, I like to see Chicago hockey back on the map," Lebda said. "And for (Chicago) and Detroit, it's a rivalry that's been waiting, I think, to be rekindled and now, because of Chicago's recent success, it has."
For Lebda, who grew up in nearby Buffalo Grove, Ill., and is now in his fourth season playing defense for the Wings, skating on an ice surface on the field that was practically his second home as a youngster was a dream come true.
"Just coming out of that dugout and seeing the sight, it was pretty cool," Lebda said. "You're usually on the other side of the fence there sitting in the stands. And just to be out there and playing in a hockey game in Wrigley Field was a neat experience."
Neat became surreal in the fourth minute of the third period when Lebda uncorked a missile from the high slot that tucked just underneath the crossbar to cap Detroit's six-goal barrage en route to a 6-4 victory.
Lebda was kept in suspense; however, about his goal as the referee in position to make the call in the right circle initially waved the goal off, thinking it had hit the crossbar.
"I wish I would have known it went in right away because I probably would have changed my celebration a little bit," Lebda said. "Other than that, you can't be too picky and I'm just glad we got the two points. It was a lot of fun and a great experience for all of us. Really, it was a heart-felt experience for myself, playing here at Wrigley."
Referee Tim Peel made the official announcement after going to video replay to review the shot. Lebda's goal came just 17 seconds after fellow defenseman Brian Rafalski had given the Wings a 5-3 edge.
Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was happy to see Lebda have the opportunity to celebrate in his home away from home.
"It's great to see him chip in and get a goal," Lidstrom said. "It took a while to realize it was a goal, but it was great to see him get it and score for us."
Lebda, who turns 27 on Jan. 15, was signed as a free agent by the Red Wings in 2004, but never suited up until the 2005-06 season due to the work stoppage. He would become the first Red Wing since Greg Johnson in 1993 to score his first NHL goal on opening night. He played in 46 games that season and all of Detroit's six playoff games. Last season, Lebda dressed for 78 games and posted 3 goals and 14 points. He has 3 goals and 8 points in 33 games with the Wings this season.
Against the Blackhawks on Thursday, he finished with a plus-1 rating while earning 11:40 of ice time on 19 shifts.
"This game (against Chicago) has just added to the rivalry and puts it much more over the edge," Lebda said. "I think they did a great job here of setting up everything and making sure everything was top-notch and, hopefully, the fans had as much fun as we did."
Lebda had been telling his Wings teammates all week about the possible harsh weather forecast in the Windy City.
"I was a little worried about the wind conditions the whole week because I've been in here when it's been howling," Lebda said. "It can whip through here pretty good but it wasn't too bad.
"The ice was a lot better today than it was (on Wednesday during practice). I think with this new (refrigeration) system, they'll get better and better as they do it and learn every year. It was playable and both teams had to deal with it."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com