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Wings, Hawks still rave about 2009 Winter Classic

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- Three years have passed, but the memories of the NHL Winter Classic remain vivid for the participants.

The backdrop of Wrigley Field was a memorable storyline in itself as the Windy City hosted its first outdoor game, pitting the Blackhawks against bitter rival Detroit.

The Red Wings took the win, 6-4, but it is not the scoreline that has stood the test of time for players, coaches and fans of both teams.

In fact, the skate around on the outdoor ice surface the day before the actual game is what a lot of players and coaches on both sides recall fondly.


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"For me, the most special part was the skate the day before -- when you got to have your family on the ice," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who accompanied his old-school baseball-style jacket that day with a memorable black cowboy hat. "It doesn't get any better than that. The game was spectacular and Wrigley Field and all of that, but that part was nice."

The game was, too, with a lot of offense and a little bit of everything for fans of both teams.

The year before, it snowed in Buffalo for the inaugural Winter Classic -- which gave the game between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins a shiny atmosphere that garnered a lot of attention nationally and helped propel the Winter Classic into an annual showcase event.

It didn't snow for the game between the Hawks and Wings, but players from both teams had no complaints about the weather or ice conditions on their day in the Winter Classic spotlight.

The whole experience even won over Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who had some concerns coming into the game.

"I'll admit, I was a little skeptical," he said. "I thought it was going to be freezing and that it wasn't going to be that much fun, but as soon as you got out there you just had a blast. Even skating around in practice the day before was awesome. We were so lucky, too, with the weather. It was perfect."

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews agreed. He looks back at the 2009 Winter Classic as one of his best memories of that season and in his career to date. Seeing so much interest in that game in the city of Chicago is something Toews and his teammates from that season will never forget.

"It was the highlight of the year," Toews told on Friday. "Halfway through the year you get to play in a game like that. You get a couple games here or there that are rivalries or cities that you go to that you're excited to play in, but that just kind of put the spotlight on one day where you really wanted to show up and put on a show."

Back then, there was plenty of pre-game hype for the matchup but HBO's "24/7" documentary series wasn't a part of it. HBO didn't enter the fun until last season's game in Pittsburgh, earning rave reviews immediately for their behind-the-scenes depictions.

Thinking back on it, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg joked that it's probably a good thing HBO wasn't involved in filming the lead-up to that Winter Classic in the Windy City -- mainly because of his own team's low-key style off the ice.

Thus, he's not sure how appealing "24/7" would be if the Wings wind up in a future Winter Classic game.

"We've been talking about it and we'd probably be the most boring team they've had on there," Zetterberg told on Friday. "We'll see what happens."

Had "24/7" been around in 2009, one of the main subplots would surely have been the ankle injury that Hawks star forward Patrick Kane suffered a game before the Winter Classic.

He played in the outdoor game mainly because he didn't want to miss something so special, but wasn't at full strength.

"It was something that you looked forward to all year and I think the game before I got hurt, so it was disappointing for me," Kane said. "I made sure I played that one, but I missed a few games after it. It was a little disappointing, but it was such a fun game."

But any of the minor disappointments on the day were overwhelmed by the grandeur of the event.

"It's unfortunate that we lost in front of our hometown," Toews said. "But above all that, what people remember is just being there for that moment and kind of the revival of hockey in Chicago."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville agreed.

"Across the board everybody thought it was the thrill of a lifetime and it was probably one of the cooler days or games of their lives," he said. "In retrospect, that was a great day. Despite losing, I think everybody looks back on that day and has a great memory. I wish over time that everybody gets a chance to experience it, because it's a special day."

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