ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Not all days are created equal. Some days are a little more special than others.
If you're a University of Michigan graduate, a Wolverines die-hard, or a hockey nut, it really can't get much better than stepping onto the ice at Michigan Stadium. I am all three, and having the chance to skate on the rink that has been created for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in the middle of the Big House was more than a dream come true. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will cherish for a lifetime.
The schedule of events Monday afternoon included both a free skate and a pickup game for the media. Approximately 25 members of the media took part in the game, which was played in the middle of the afternoon, right after the free skate.
I would not be exaggerating to say that I have looked forward to this day since Michigan Stadium was first announced as the host of this game nearly two years earlier.
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I have spent many, many afternoons at Michigan Stadium, but never one quite like this. I was lucky enough to be here for Desmond Howard's miracle catch against Notre Dame and his Heisman pose against Ohio State. I was here when Charles Woodson took a punt back against those same Buckeyes to clinch the Heisman and propel Michigan to a national championship. But as memorable as those moments were, they had nothing on this.
The weather was perfect: cold but not unbearable, cloud cover, an absence of glare and even a few snowflakes. Norman Rockwell would have been pleased. I tried to take it all in as I stepped onto the ice. The endless rows of seats. The two massive end zone scoreboards. The press boxes and suites, now adorned with NHL Winter Classic logos.
Oddly enough, once the puck was dropped for the game, the venue and setting melted into the background. I had to tell myself to look around and remember where I was. The stands didn't feel far away. In fact, they felt right on top of you, just like they do at an indoor venue. Of course, those 100,000-plus seats were all empty today. I can't imagine what the vista will be like for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings when they take to the same ice sheet on New Year's Day.
One of the things I love about a trip to the Big House is that you can almost always tell the first-time visitors. They're the ones that stop as they step through the entrance portals and take a look around at the sheer scale of the place, sometimes silently mouthing a "wow."
It's a scene that will no doubt be repeated many times on Wednesday.
For me, the game will be gravy. Oh, I can't wait to see the stands full of the red and blue of the Wings and Leafs faithful. The pregame pomp and circumstance will no doubt be awesome. But I feel like I've had my Heisman moment. I didn't score a goal -- ruining my plan of recreating Howard's famous pose in the south end zone -- but my life is just a little ... OK, a lot ... more complete than it was this morning.
Russell Levine is the head of Digital Production for NHL.com