Some of the Red Wings got a look at the Big House on the campus of the University of Michigan where they will play the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year's Day. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
DETROIT – Kris Draper only played against the Toronto Maple Leafs 36 times during his 20 seasons in the NHL. But there’s just one thing that gets his red blood boiling, and that’s the sight of Leafs’ blue.
“Being from Toronto, I know how excited that whole city's going to be and obviously their fan base coming down here,” said Draper, who played for the Red Wings from 1993 until last season. “It's gonna be an unbelievable week. The build-up down here at Comerica Park and then obviously heading up to the Big House is going to be something that everybody involved is gonna remember it, especially the players that are going to be playing in it. For sure, it's going to be one of the highlights of their careers.”
Draper, along with former Wings legends Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay, were on hand at Comerica Park for Thursday’s announcement that the 2013 NHL Winter Classic will be held at Michigan Stadium – otherwise known as the Big House – on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan on New Year’s Day.
It will also be the first time that a Canadian-based team has been invited to play in the annual outdoor game held in the U.S. since 2008.
For Draper and others, especially hockey purists who love the league’s Original Six franchises, a Wings-Leafs game on such a daring scale – in front of more than 110,000 fans in a college football stadium – will be something to behold.
“I think it's great outdoors. It's great for the fans, No. 1, and it brings back memories of their childhood, when they got an opportunity to play outside,” Delvecchio said. “I don't think too many play outdoors now in minor hockey, but it is a great feeling to be out there. I think the biggest difference is the ice. It's more natural outside when it's cold and snowy. I think it's a lot easier skating.
“It’ll be a great event. These guys are going to have 100,000 people watching. It's going to be something to perform on that date.”
At Thursday’s news conference, where it was also announced that Comerica Park – home to the Detroit Tigers – will host the inaugural Hockeytown Winter Festival next December, the two NHL general managers were discussing the game live on NHL Network when the Leafs’ Brian Burke began to boast a bit.
“Obviously, Detroit's had much more recent success than we've had, but if you go back to the start, the Toronto Maple Leafs outplayed the Detroit franchise badly for several decades,” Burke told the media afterwards. “They've had great success recently, but we intend to have something to say about that.”
Burke said the Leafs’ players, especially Michigan alums Mike Brown and Mike Komisarek, are fired up for the opportunity to play against Wings in the Big House.
“We get to play these guys in front of a crowd that big, it's awesome,” Burke said. “I think you better get to the border crossings early if you plan to go to this game.”
Wings GM Ken Holland didn’t take the bait, however. But Draper, who’s now a special assistant to Holland, stood up for his boss and the organization.
“You hear about the emotions, obviously Brian Burke has already started the trash talking,” Draper said. “I've got to work with Kenny on his comebacks there. We need more from him in that. … But it's going to be great.”