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Twice the fun, as Wings, Leafs alumni will play two

by Brian Hedger

DETROIT -- It's going to be a December of firsts for outdoor hockey games when the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival begins Dec. 15 in Detroit.

That includes the annual Alumni Showdown, which will have a new look.

After receiving a great amount of interest from their alumni groups in playing at Comerica Park, the host Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will play two alumni outdoor games Dec. 31 -- the first time that's been done in the event's brief history.


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Tickets for the 2012 Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings Alumni Showdown will include both games and go on sale Aug. 1 to season-ticket holders for each team. Ticket sales to the general public will begin in mid-August.

"We decided to have two alumni games so that we can honor probably 23 to 25 players on two different teams," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said at a press conference Wednesday held on the infield grass at Comerica Park. "We can have 75 to 80 or maybe 100 of the greatest players in Red Wings and Leafs history (involved). (We're) not exactly sure how we're going to break down the game. That's going to be for another time, but I'm looking at this game as a trip down Memory Lane. For me, as a fan, to be able to sit in this stadium and watch all these great Red Wings players and Leafs players on the same sheet of ice is going to be absolutely incredible."

The alumni games will cap the inaugural SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival, which will feature outdoor games from several levels of hockey at the rink in Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers. That includes the annual Great Lakes Invitational college tournament, the first time it's been held outside. Another first will be the outdoor games played by Ontario Hockey League junior teams -- the Windsor Spitfires, Plymouth Whalers, London Knights and Saginaw Spirit.

Also playing on the outdoor rink will be the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies, the American Hockey League affiliates of the Wings and Leafs. All of these events will serve as a two-week primer for the annual Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will be held between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs on Jan. 1 about 40 miles away at the University of Michigan football stadium in Ann Arbor.

Alumni players and representatives of both teams helped make the announcement Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.

"I don't know who does all the decision-making (for rosters) for both sides, but it's got to be tough," Maple Leafs alumni player Wendel Clark said. "Both teams have been around forever and both have great histories and both have tons of players in the areas they live in and throughout North America, so it's probably tough to pick the 20 guys."

Hall of Fame forward and Red Wings alumni player Dino Ciccarelli agreed that two games are a good idea.

"The big game will be the second game, but there's other guys involved with the alumni that want to be a part of it, as well," said Ciccarelli, who represented the Detroit alumni Wednesday along with Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio and Joe Kocur. "There's not enough room (on the benches) for one game, so it's nice to see they're getting more people involved. There's a lot of people who want to be involved in this. Us older guys didn't get a chance (to play an outdoor game), so it's nice to be a part of it."

In addition to the three Leafs alumni on hand Wednesday (Clark, Jim McKenny, Kevin Maguire), Toronto will be represented by Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Darcy Tucker, Felix Potvin, Mike Palmateer, Dave Andreychuk, Doug Gilmour, Curtis Joseph, Johnny Bower and Ron Ellis, among others.

Other Red Wings alumni who plan to play include Mickey Redmond, John Ogrodnick, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy, Mark Howe and all four members of Detroit's infamous "Grind Line" -- Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Kocur. Detroit also will have goalies Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon.

Lindsay, Delvecchio and Gordie Howe are expected to make appearances but not play.

Noticeably absent from the Red Wings alumni roster were the team's past two captains and Detroit legends: defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and center Steve Yzerman. Lidstrom retired this offseason and hasn't committed one way or the other as to whether he'll play in the alumni game. Yzerman -- now general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- has said he will not play.

That doesn't mean he won't make an appearance. He's likely to get more prodding from former Red Wings teammates and other prominent alumni to join in the fun -- same for Lidstrom.

"I can't see why Nick wouldn't play and we could sure use him on defense," Kocur said. "I don't know that Stevie has really put skates on since he retired. From what I understand, he has never put the skates on ... and he had a lot of tough injuries, his knees and stuff like that. But I can guarantee there's a lot of calls going into him. There's a lot of lobbying, trying to get him here. Every player that's involved would love to have him here and would make a personal plea for him to show up."
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