|Brian Rafalski helps celebrate Jiri Hudler's second goal of the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks during the NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) |
– Jiri Hudler
’s smile began on New Year’s Eve and was still prominent following the Red Wings’ 6-4 win over the Blackhawks Thursday at Wrigley Field.
“I just looked around with my mouth open in the beginning, we were standing at the national anthem looking at each other and were like wow, this is awesome,” said Hudler, who was one of four Red Wings’ players to collect three-points each in the NHL’s second annual Winter Classic.
Early on, there were numerous battles and punches in front of each goal, continuous trips to the penalty box, and hits that led to the Blackhawks building a two-goal advantage. But it was Hudler, who stole the show in the gritty Original Six showdown.
Hudler, a native of the Czech Republic, led Detroit’s second period comeback, scoring twice in the first 13 minutes. His nose for the net wasn’t affected by the frozen conditions of the Windy City, as he battled his way to two rebound goals. Hudler led Wings’ offensive explosion, as they scored five unanswered goals to cap the Wings’ comeback in the 701st regular-season meeting with the Blackhawks.
“What a great experience today,” Hudler said. “It’s a lifetime experience actually. It’s pretty special to play in front of these fans, Blackhawks and Red Wings fans, and I’m glad I was part of it.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock had lots to say about his skilled forward.
“Hudler, he’s a really sneaky little guy, obviously," Babcock said. "The puck follows him around. That’s what good players do. He’s like (Patrick) Kane that way. He’s not as dynamic a skater, but the puck just follows these guys around because their hockey sense is so good.”
After falling behind 3-1 in a penalty-filled first period, the Wings made the long walk to the Wrigley Field ice determined for a different outcome in the second. Hudler said that heading into the first intermission, the defending Stanley Cup champions were calm and poised, even falling behind early at such a special event.
“No panic, we sat down and talked about our game plan, and it worked,” he said. “We’re glad we won this one, it’s pretty special.”
Hudler’s line with Henrik Zetterberg
and Marian Hossa, jumpstarted the comeback. Zetterberg, Hossa and defenseman Brian Rafalski all had three-point efforts Thursday.
A minute into the second, Zetterberg threw the puck towards the slot in front of the Chicago goal. The puck found its way to the stick of Hossa, who fired one of his lethal wrist shots at Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet, who made the initial save, but couldn’t keep Hudler from banging home the rebound.
Twelve minutes later, Hudler struck again, on another backdoor rebound. Rafalski took the initial shot on goal with a quick low blast. The bouncing puck found its way to the other side of the net, with Hudler staring down an empty net. However, it took him a couple of swings; Hudler missed the bouncing puck at least twice before he finally got it. From there, the Red Wings never looked back.
After the game, Hudler laughed about how long it took to score his second of the contest.
“I couldn’t put it in,” he said. “First bounce, second bounce, third bounce. … It looked like slow motion. Maybe it was.”
Hudler said that scoring twice in the Winter Classic was special, but sharing the ice with superstars like Zetterberg and Hossa is just as exciting.
“It’s awesome, especially at this game, I got those two lucky bounces, and I played with Z and Hos, which was special too, to play with players like this,” Hudler said.
Hudler wrapped up his impressive performance with an assist on Rafalski’s power-play goal three minutes into the third period, which gave the Wings a 5-3 edge.