DETROIT – There was no shortage of hockey royalty on display Monday afternoon at Comerica Park as alumni from the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs held practices prior to Tuesday’s Alumni Showdown inside the ballpark.
“It’s so cool to see some of the guys that I watched on TV before I came over,” former Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I think that’s the cool part about this because there is so much rich history here and tradition. To have those guys on the ice it’s great for hockey but also for us as players.”
Anticipation for the alumni doubleheader has been building for the last week, said Lidstrom, who returned from Sweden to be a part of the games leading up to Wednesday’s NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.
Lidstrom was among a who’s who of hockey legends assembled on the outdoor rink in downtown Detroit, along with Hockey Hall of Famers Gordie and Mark Howe, Johnny Bower, Dino Ciccarelli, Doug Gilmour, Larry Murphy, Lanny McDonald, Igor Larionov, Darryl Sittler and others.
“You’re looking forward to Christmas but I knew as soon as Christmas was over I was heading over here and being a part of this,” Lidstrom said. “It’s been something that I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time actually.”
Lidstrom is expected to head up a legendary Red Wings’ defensive corps in Game 2 that will consist of Murphy, Chris Chelios, Mark Howe, Slava Fetisov, Paul Coffey and Brian Rafalski.
Wings forwards for Game 2 are expected to be Larionov, Ciccarelli, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Mickey Redmond, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Joe Kocur, Slava Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov and Doug Brown. Goalies will be Chris Osgood and Manny Legace.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland had a blast Monday and said Tuesday’s festivities will allow him – for at least a short time – to become a fan of the game and this fantastic Original Six rivalry.
“I think it’s a flashback for the players to play and for the fans it’s the same thing, it’s a flashback when you think of seeing the Russian Five and Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom,” Holland said. “You’re going to have Gordie, Ted and Alex involved and all the players who meant so much to this hockey team and the impact that they have had on this city. It’s a one day trip down memory lane. To see all of these people on the ice at once, you’ll never have that opportunity ever again.”
Many of the former Wings have taken these games – which conclude five days of hockey hoopla at the ballpark – seriously, organizing practices for the last month at Joe Louis Arena.
“You see the guys out there, you see the smiles on their faces, it has brought everyone back into that moment,” Draper said. “It’s a lot of good memories. We were supposed to skate at 12:30 and guys were already here at 11, just embracing the whole moment and the situation. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Leafs, like 63-year-old Sittler, are wary of the young Wings, which in some way has already given Detroit’s alumni a psychological advantage.
“We have the mental edge, that’s important,” Draper said. “But, you know what, when the puck drops these guys have a lot of pride too. You know they’re going to come hard. I already saw Darcy Tucker and he won’t talk to me. He’s shaking his head at me but that’s OK. We battled when we played and we’ll have some fun tomorrow.”
While some may think age will be a factor in Tuesday’s outcomes, Lidstrom is more cautious with his prediction.
“I still think it’s going to be a close game,” he said. “I think it will be a lot of fun, a lot of laughs out there and I’m sure the fans will enjoy seeing a lot of the guys out there.”
Tuesday’s games will be played in equal halves. Game 1 will consist of 20-minute running time and the clock will stop in the last five-minutes of each half. Game 2 will be 25-minute running time with the clock stopping in the final 10-minutes of each half.
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