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Alumni of 'Big Chill' game recall special experience

by Corey Masisak
Shawn Hunwick is one of two people to ever lead his hockey team onto the playing surface at Michigan Stadium.

Hunwick, the starting goaltender for Michigan in "The Big Chill at The Big House" on Dec. 11, 2010, is an authority on what it is like to step onto the ice with more than 100,000 people watching and waiting in anticipation.

"It is just a sea of people," Hunwick said. "If you've ever been to the Big House, it's not so much straight up as it is dug deep and there are so many rows. We run those stairs in the stadium every fall for conditioning, so we know exactly how many rows there are. It is so many people.

"Coming out and touching the banner -- I was the first guy to touch the 'Go Blue' banner that the football guys normally run past and grab. That was a neat experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life."

Added forward and Phoenix Coyotes prospect Chris Brown: "During warmups you got a little taste of what it's like to be a football player here. All of us for sure were looking around. We probably got a little distracted. Once the game started, we were able to stay focused and it was just a great event."

The Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs will stage the second hockey game in the history of the famous college football cathedral in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which the League officially christened Thursday. Hunwick and his Wolverines defeated Michigan State, 5-0, there last season.

There have been several outdoor college hockey games, but "The Big Chill" was unique because of the venue. Michigan Stadium is officially the largest stadium in the country, though there a few that continue to expand to try and one-up each other.

The official capacity for football games is 109,901, but attendance routinely tops 111,000. When Notre Dame came to town this past season for the first night game at the stadium, nearly 115,000 were on hand to set a new NCAA single-game record.

"The Big Chill was great. We set an [attendance] record and every time you think about it, it sends chills down your spine," Michigan forward and New Jersey Devils prospect David Wohlberg said. "It was one of those things that is only going to happen once and it was a lot of fun.

"I've been to football games. I went to the Notre Dame game this year and it was awesome. But it was the flyover that we had, the fireworks, the way everything came together, the weather -- it all just worked out perfectly."

The announced attendance at "The Big Chill" was 113,411. To be certified as an official record for the most people to ever see a hockey game, the people at Guinness World Records counted tickets scanned that day and not tickets purchased. For their purposes and for the record book, the attendance was 104,173, which was still more than 35,000 greater than the previous world hockey attendance mark.

Now the NHL, with two of its name-brand franchises, will set out to have its first game with more than 100,000 fans on hand. There's going to be a lot of red in the old stadium this time. There will be a lot of blue as well -- but it is going to be of a lighter shade as Maple Leafs fans make the trek to Ann Arbor.

"It's going to be incredible," New York Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin, who played for Michigan last year, said. "It's obviously going to sell out. A lot of Toronto people are going to come down. Two great teams as well. If you had a chance to go watch that game, it would be pretty incredible.

"I just think the whole Winter Classic thing and taking it outdoors is an incredible idea. People love it, even non-hockey fans. The fans are having so much fun. I remember last year when I played at the Big House, I had 25 suites and they were partying all day and all night. It's pretty cool to see them after the game. It's 5 o'clock and they're already pretty buzzed."

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