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Classic rematch for Red Wings, Leafs

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Speaking about his fight in Columbus on Tuesday, Red Wings rookie Andreas Athanasiou said he was trying to give the team a spark. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- The Red Wings will have a chance to avenge their loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

The NHL announced Wednesday that the Wings will play the Leafs on Jan. 1, 2017 in the Centennial Classic at Toronto's BMO Field.

"It's awesome," Gustav Nyquist said. "We had a great time this year down in Colorado. That was awesome down there, the weather was nice and the ice was very good. Real fun experience. Nice to be on the winning side of it too since we lost at the Big House. It'll be a nice little rematch from that Big House game for sure. Be fun to play Toronto."

The game will mark the Wings' fourth outdoor contest in eight years.

"It’s exciting," Justin Abdelkader said. "Obviously Toronto is celebrating their 100 year anniversary, so it’ll be exciting to be a part of it. It’s always fun playing outdoors."

The Wings played the Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in 2009, the Leafs at Michigan Stadium in 2014 and most recently, the Stadium Series game in Colorado last month.

There are several Wings from the Toronto area, including Andreas Athanasiou, who hails from Vaughan, Ontario.

"It's about 20-25 minutes from Toronto," Athanasiou said. "It'll be good. Hopefully I'll have a good amount of friends there. It'll be good to see them."

Riley Sheahan is from St. Catherines, Ontario.

"I think I'll definitely have some friends and family there," Sheahan said. "My parents didn't get to come to this year's Stadium Series game so it will be cool for them to get to go there."

Dylan Larkin's father is from Toronto so they have plenty of family still living there.

"It's going to be awesome," Larkin said. "A place like Toronto, I don't know if I can get my family tickets but it will be a cool event. It's going to be a big event."

Compared to the last time the Wings and Leafs met in an outdoor game, it will be a much smaller crowd.

They set a record with 105,491 at Michigan Stadium.

BMO Field, home of FC Toronto, has a capacity of 30,000, making it the smallest stadium to host an NHL outdoor game.

"It's in a great area, right in the core downtown," Sheahan said. "There's tons of hockey support there. I think it's just a great area. There will be great sightlines. It's set up in a spot where every fan will be able to see the ice rink. It'll be fun."

The smallest crowd to attend an NHL outdoor game was 38,112 for the 2010 Winter Classic at Boston's Fenway Park.

"It’s unfortunate we’ll only see 35,000 because I imagine we could easily get as many as we had in the Big House," Abdelkader said. "I imagine tickets will be pretty expensive. Why not play two outdoor games, each team has a home game. You don’t want to alter the season. Both teams play through the same conditions, so there’s no advantage but I think outdoor games are great, as long as the fans keep coming and enjoying the experience."

As two of the Original Six franchises, these outdoor game opportunities come around more frequently.

"There’s lots of perks of being a Red Wing and certainly that’s one of them, you get those opportunities," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I hope the weather is as good as it was in Denver. I don’t know that we’ll get that. Those are cool events, for sure."

CHANGING IT UP AGAIN: Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk seemed to get a spark when they were first put back together on a line but things have not gone as well recently.

So Blashill has split them up again.

Zetterberg is on a line with Abdelkader and Larkin while Datsyuk is centering Tomas Tatar and Athanasiou.

"You get a chance to play with one of the best players in the world, obviously you're going to be excited," Athanasiou said. "I think my speed can complement him a little bit and give him that little extra bit of space -- not that he needs it. When you give a skilled player like that a split-second more time with the puck, it's definitely going to be a huge part."

Sheahan is centering Teemu Pulkkinen and Nyquist while Luke Glendening centers Darren Helm and Brad Richards.

"It’s about the line combinations, trying to put together the best combinations we think can be as effective as possible and we’ll see how they are," Blashill said. "I think he’s had a good impact in the minutes he’s played but I think other guys have as well. Hopefully that line can do some good things."

Pulkkinen was working on the power play during the morning skate.

"He’s got a weapon as a shot, he’s got to make sure he gets himself open and shoots the puck and hits the net," Pulkkinen said. "I think is he hits the net he’s going to have opportunities to score goals. He’s somebody I’ve seen as a weapon in the past, in the American League. He hasn’t had tons of opportunity here, when he has he hasn’t gotten the shots on net the way he needs to. He needs to get open, shoot the puck and hit the net."

On defense, Brendan Smith returns to the lineup and will pair with Jonathan Ericsson.

Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey are back together, as are Niklas Kronwall and Mike Green.

Alexey Marchenko is a healthy scratch.

Petr Mrazek gets the start in goal against the Winnipeg Jets.

IMPORTANT HOMESTAND: After three straight losses, the Wings know they have to set things right during their three-game homestand against the Jets, New York Rangers and Maple Leafs.

"Three in a row here, didn't manage to get a single point in three games," Nyquist said. "Obviously that's not good enough. When you do that you see yourself right on that line again for making the playoffs, so obviously we know how important these games are for sure at home to make sure we step up and play our game and grab some wins here, some very important points. It starts with a big game tonight."

The Wings are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, but the Flyers have a game in hand.

"I just think we've got to be a little more consistent," Larkin said. "We have to play together, work for each other and really execute on power plays and penalty kills. Do whatever it takes to win."

Larkin has not recorded a point in a season-high seven games, but he said other teams aren't playing him differently.

"I look at it as every game is a new game," Larkin said. "When things aren't going well you get a chance usually within 48 hours to re-prove yourself and have another 60 minutes where you can try and make something happen. I guess it really hasn't been going that way and you get a little bit more frustrated when the team isn't winning. You kind of look at yourself, look in the mirror and see if there's things you can do to help. For me I do think there's things I need to do better to help the team."

AA THE PUGILIST: Athanasiou fought Columbus forward Matt Calvert on Tuesday, his first NHL bout.

"We were down a couple goals there, tough team like that, I just try to get the boys going a little bit, try to spark them up a little bit," Athanasiou said. "He came out swinging and I kind of lost my grip there a little bit. I think I was fine, he didn't really hit me much. He got me once but the rest were all on my helmet, thankfully. I was fine. I think it was not a bad first fight for me. He's fought some tough customers before."

According to, Athanasiou has two AHL fights and four OHL fights under his belt.

"I don't go looking for it," Athanasiout said. "I see an opportunity to get the boys back on track and try to turn the momentum, swing it one way. I'm not afraid to do it. Stick up for a teammate, I'm not afraid to do that either so just here for the guys."

Blashill appreciated Athanasiou's efforts, even though it didn't spark the team enough for a win.

"I think it’s great, there’s lot of different ways to spark the team, can be from a big hit can be from a fight, can be from good offensive plays, from great defensive plays," Blashill said. "That was one way. I thought he did a good job, so that’s a good step for him."

JETS BIG AND PHYSICAL: The Jets aren't in line to make the playoffs but they could prevent the Wings from doing so.

"They're a big, strong, physical team, fast for how big they are, I think," Nyquist said. "They got some dangerous players, too. They traded away (Andrew) Ladd, so obviously that's a little bit of a loss for them, but still, they got a lot of good players there. We got to make sure we're ready to break out fast tonight and help our D out from their forecheck."

The Jets team average is 6-foot-2, 204 pounds.

Jets coach Paul Maurice knows the Wings badly need a win.

"I think they're probably a little snarly here tonight," Maurice said. "Things haven't gone the way they wanted to in the last three and that playoff picture tightens up. And then you've got two of the finest leaders in sports sitting in that locker room, so you know they're coming tonight. They know they have to win. On their calendar, this is a must-win game for them. Which at times you can probably look to using that to your advantage. But I'm not sure with Zetterberg and Datsyuk having final say before they go out on the ice that there's going to be much of an advantage there."

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