ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There are two reasons why Paul Maurice will never forget the outdoor hockey practice he held as Toronto Maple Leafs coach in 2008.
The frigid conditions that featured wind whipping sideways and a temperature that Maurice said dropped to minus-25 degrees Celsius, and the sincere joy he saw on his players' faces as they practiced in front of kids who got out of school early to come to the refurbished Withrow Park Rink just east of downtown Toronto.
Maurice is talking about those memories now because he's in town to serve as an NHL Network analyst at the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Wednesday between the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC). It will be Maurice's first time attending a Winter Classic game.
"It is just brutal and after about 15 minutes I could see it in the players, they're starting to get worried because it's that cold," Maurice told NHL.com, recalling the outdoor practice nearly six years ago. "I said, 'Listen, this is what we'll do, we'll drop the puck and you guys scrimmage for five minutes and we'll get out of here.' Twenty minutes later they don't want to come off the ice. It went from being a freezing cold practice to a shinny game with a bunch of grown men acting as kids.
2014 WINTER CLASSIC
Hosting Classic a challenge for Michigan
Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer
Winterizing Michigan Stadium to host what could be more than 110,000 people for a major event in frigid conditions is one major obstacle the NHL and University of Michigan officials had to clear to pave the way for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. READ MORE ›
"That's what the outdoor experience was," he continued. "Every one of those guys grew up doing that, and when you're playing for the Leafs or the Wings you don't get a chance to do that anymore. When you give them that chance they're instantly a kid again and they go, 'Oh, this was so much fun.'"
Maurice will be watching for more of the same from the Red Wings' and Maple Leafs' players on Tuesday when they practice at Michigan Stadium, as well as before, during and after the Winter Classic game Wednesday.
Sure, he's here to serve as an analyst to offer a coach's perspective to NHL Network viewers, but Maurice is as much interested in the hockey game as he is watching how excited and emotional the players will get when they get onto the ice at The Big House and experience what might be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"I almost wonder if that was a byproduct they never saw coming, that at the end of the day the players are actually the guys that get the biggest benefit out of this," Maurice said. "And remember, I know how great it is for the fans, but these guys don't ever get to do this, go out and play a game of shinny. The coaches don't want to hear it, but they're playing outdoors and it's going to be fun."
Maurice will also be watching the coaches, Toronto's Randy Carlyle and Detroit's Mike Babcock, to see how they handle the event considering their teams are struggling and are currently in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic Division.
Detroit and Toronto were tied with 45 points entering play Monday night, but the Red Wings were in fourth place in the division by virtue of having a game in hand.
"I'm thinking about those guys [Carlyle and Babcock], right now they're in the middle of the pack, so there is a different kind of pressure to these games," Maurice said. "I'm thinking, I hope I would have the good sense, and remember this is what I'm hoping I would do, to allow my players to enjoy this a little bit because it needs to be enjoyed."
He not only thinks it can be done, Maurice thinks it would be a huge miss on the part of everybody involved with each team if they didn't take some time to enjoy the event even though two important points are on the line.
"Not that it's bad, but there has been much scrutiny and so much buildup to an outdoor hockey game that you may think, 'This is going to be 60 or 65 minutes and we can move on,' but you're not getting this back," Maurice said. "Toronto and Detroit never get a first one of these again. This is it, so enjoy the heck out of it. It's going to be so much more fun if you win, but the memories are going to be great. You're bringing home memories.
"I'm looking for the fun. I'm looking for the smiles. I'm looking for the little memories."