It's finally here. After months of anticipation, the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is upon us and I personally could not be more excited. There are so many elements that make this event so special, it's hard to go through all of them.
But one thing is for certain, this year's Winter Classic pitting the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a can't-miss event and one of the truly great spectacles in sport.
Even if you can't make it to the Big House, it really is going to be phenomenal to watch. If you don't have a television, get to the local bar or get to your buddy's place to watch the game.
You've got to watch it, no matter where you are. And you won't be alone. The eyes of the sporting world will be on the Winter Classic. That means people in the Czech Republic, Russia, London, Paris, Schenectady, everywhere. It's not just Toronto and Michigan who will be watching, the whole sports world will be watching the Winter Classic.
For one thing, I don't think you could have got a better venue. We're talking about 120,000 people at the Big House. I don't see how you can get a better venue than that. It's an epic stadium where we will set an attendance record for an NHL hockey game. When you think about the history of that stadium and two Original Six teams facing off, it's going to be so special. More importantly, with all the fans that are going to be there, it's like the Super Bowl. Really, it's the hockey version of the Super Bowl.
Obviously, the venue is bigger than any NFL venue. But look at the franchises involved and everything they have accomplished in the past 20 years. With their standard for excellence, I would consider the Red Wings the Harvard University of hockey. I had a chance to speak to coach Mike Babcock last week and every time you talk to him, he never stops. He's always talking about something related to the game. The coaching staff, along with the front office and general manager Ken Holland, are all about the game. They don't stop. That's how you get 22 straight years in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is the best postseason streak in this era of modern sports.
Then you have the Maple Leafs, who are a much improved team and have a lot of shared history with the Red Wings. They're both Original Six and a lot of us grew up watching them play in the old Norris Division. It's an amazing rivalry that is made better by the fact that the Red Wings are now back in the Eastern Conference. Best of all, there is a ton of talent on both teams. The Leafs have Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, the Red Wings have Pavel Datsyuk. And that's just where the great talent begins with these two teams.
Then there's the atmosphere. The atmosphere at the outdoor games is incredible. I've been to the Super Bowl in Tampa. The atmosphere at the NHL outdoor games has that much buzz. When you look at it, it's not just the one-off game. Look at all the other games at Comerica Park. It literally touches every level of grass roots hockey in Detroit, which is amazing and on par with Minnesota and almost on par with Toronto and Montreal. All through this week, there were so many different outdoor games hosted in Detroit at Comerica Park. There was an American Hockey League game there, Ontario Hockey League game there, U.S. college games there, the alumni games. It's something that really touches players at every level, fans at every level, families at every level. It just can't get any better than that.
It means there is a lot going on, it's a hockey buffet. And I for one am glad to be partaking.