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Winter Classic a family affair for Jimmy Howard

by Tal Pinchevsky

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Since the details of the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic were first announced, players on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings have been fielding numerous ticket requests from friends and family. But for Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, the big game at Michigan Stadium will be a huge moment for his family that could potentially be made even more special after the game ends.

Howard lived in Ann Arbor while playing with the United States National Team Development Program as a teenager, so he'll have plenty of old friends in attendance. But the Big House will also host four generations of Howard's family for the Winter Classic. Howard's grandfather, James Howard I, will be in attendance, along with his father, James Howard II, and his two-year-old son, James Howard IV.

For Grandpa Howard, known as J-one among friends and family, it's an incredible event that he didn't exactly envision when the Detroit goalie was a child. A wrestling coach at Oswego State University in western New York, the eldest Howard had different plans for J-three.

"We kept wanting him to wrestle, but he gravitated to the ice and we couldn't get him off the ice," James Howard I said. "We allowed our kids to do whatever they wanted. When he [James Howard II] was young, he wanted to skate all the time, so we let him skate. We couldn't get him to the mat, he kept going to the ice."

The man known in the Howard family as J-two helped groom his son's hockey development in western New York. And he's thrilled to be back in Ann Arbor to see his son play in one of the sports world's great spectacles.

"It's going to be stressful, but we're just going to take it all in and have fun," James Howard II said.

The day could be made even more stressful when the United States Olympic team is named after the game. If Howard is included on the roster, it would be the culmination of years of training and hard work for the 29-year-old raised in the small border town of Ogdensburg, N.Y.

"That would be great. He's worked so hard to accomplish what he's accomplished," Howard II said. "Growing up, he was sort of under the radar, nobody really knew about him where we lived. Our community is only about 9,000 people."

The Detroit goalie's father will likely toss and turn the entire day when his son competes on hockey's grandest stage. As for his 80-year-old grandfather, he's just having a good time and enjoying a special day for his family.

"I don't get stressed anymore. When you're 80 years old, you don't get stressed," James Howard I said. "You let it flow, man. You let it flow."

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