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Winter Classic GMs are a study in contrasts @NHLdotcom
DETROIT -- Say this about Brian Burke: He knows how to sell a game.

Burke, the Toronto Maple Leafs' GM, became the star of the show -- as expected -- during Thursday's news conference at Comerica Park to announce the 2013 Winter Classic, which will pit his Leafs against the host Red Wings at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

It's a game with a ton of sizzle and an array of subplots.

"I think there are a lot of things that add up to it being an incredible game and an incredible two weeks," Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. "The history of hockey here, the rivalry between the Leafs and the Red Wings, the alumni game, the historical players the Leafs have had, the historical players the Red Wings have had, the passion of the Red Wing fans, the passion of the Leafs fans.


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"There's going to be lots of Leafs fans, lots of Red Wings fans. Then, you talk about the University of Michigan. The stadium has been around for 85 or 90 years or something and is one of the great, historic venues in college football. It all adds up to a tremendous game."

Yet Burke made sure he added a little more spice to the affair with a prediction -- sneaky and subdued as it may have been -- that his club would emerge victorious on Jan. 1

"Our guys are really excited about (the game)," he said during a roundtable with Holland and NHL Network's Kathryn Tappen after the formal news conference. "I think it is like (NHL Players Association executive director) Donald Fehr said a few minutes ago: I think part of being a hockey player is you have to take postcards away from it where you remember vividly that day and who scored goals in that game.

"Usually, that's the playoffs, but this is the only event that will provide that kind of memory for a player where he says, 'Geez, it was special when we played in the Big House -- and beat Detroit.'"

That cheeky one-liner got a good laugh out of the crowd, as well as Holland, who responded he wouldn't be as bold in guaranteeing a victory.

But that's the thing with Burke: He believes in the product he is selling so wholeheartedly that he can't help but be a pitchman. He believes the Winter Classic is good for the sport that he loves, and he believes the Maple Leafs, the first Canadian team to take part in the six editions of the Winter Classic, will help make this game the best one ever.

He says he was asked by the League when negotiations started for the Leafs possible involvement in this game if the Leafs could sell 40,000 of the 110,000 or so tickets that will be available.

"I need 48 hours," he said. "Then they called back and said 'what about 50,000 tickets?' I said, 'I need 72 hours.'"

Holland couldn't be further from Burke on the emotional scale. While Burke wears his heart on his sleeve and is unafraid to make bold statements, Holland plays his cards closer to the vest and is more reserved in what he says.

It was an interesting character study as Thursday unfolded.

"Brian Burke is real good for the game," Mike Babcock, Holland's coach, told "He did a good job when he was (the GM) in Anaheim and he's gone to Toronto and the team has gotten better there. Everybody has a different style.

"We have the best manager in the game, bar none. The math just states that and no one can argue with it. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His style is different than Burke's. But I think Burkie is great for the game. I enjoy Burkie on a personal level as well. You and I know he's going to do his part and do it well."

But even Burke knows that his team will have to back up his confidence. He sees the Winter Classic -- the centerpiece of the 2012-13 regular season -- as the perfect place to make that statement.

"We say this to our players all the time: The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the great professional sports brands in the history of the planet, and we haven't delivered in recent years," Burke said. "If you count the number of Stanley Cups we have, we are competitive with just about anybody; but we haven't won recently.

"We are on our way back to being a competitive team and putting another banner in the rafters. Obviously Detroit has had much more recent success than we have, but if you go back to the start, the Toronto Maple Leafs  outplayed the Detroit franchise badly in several decades and they have had great success recently. But, we intend to have something to say about that.

"I promise you, our players are excited about this game. It's not like, 'Oh poor us, we drew Detroit.' It's like, 'We get to play Detroit in front of a crowd this big, that's awesome.'"

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