DETROIT – As the Red Wings stepped onto the ice rink at Comerica Park for their first official outdoor practice leading up to the 2014 Winter Classic, a few young players took advantage of the experience to prepare for the Hockeytown Winter Festival’s AHL matchup between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies on Dec. 30.
“It was great,” forward Tomas Jurco said of skating at Comerica Park. “It’s just a new experience for me and for sure I enjoyed. I know we’re playing here on the 30th I think and everybody’s real excited for it. It was the first look for me for this ice and it looks great so I’m excited.”
Jurco, Luke Glendening, Patrick Eaves, Petr Mrazek and Riley Sheahan were recalled from the Griffins within the past week to help the injury-ridden Red Wings, who currently have eight players sidelined with injuries. The time they’ll spend wearing the Winged Wheel is unknown as the veteran players’ statuses is day-to-day.
If the five players are returned to Detroit’s minor-league affiliate in time for the AHL matchup at Comerica Park, they will be the only ones to have practiced on the outdoor rink before the game. But Jurco can’t help but think about the opportunity to play in the highly anticipated Winter Classic if he’s still with the Wings on New Year’s Day.
“Of course, it’s everybody’s dream to play at this game, of course it’s my dream too,” Jurco said. “It’s not that far away and I’m still here so of course I’ve thought about that but I’m just going day by day and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
That uncertain future with the Red Wings keeps Glendening from thinking about playing in the Winter Classic at his alma mater – the University of Michigan.
“I just take it day by day here,” Glendening said. “I don’t know how long my time here will last but you just gotta make the most of when you’re here and it’s an opportunity to make a name for myself.”
The Grand Rapids, Michigan native has played in three career outdoor games, including the Big Chill with the Wolverines, and knows he will enjoy playing in either atmosphere, whether it’s in Detroit or Ann Arbor.
“Obviously it’d be a neat experience just because that’s where I went to school and I played in the Big Chill there but you know either game I’m excited to play in and I’m happy to be part of either team,” he said.
While Glendening is a veteran when it comes to outdoor competition, Jurco has never participated in an outdoor game. The 20-year-old grew up playing pond hockey but migrated to the indoor rinks as he got older, and hasn’t played outside since last year.
“Last Christmas when I was home I went to play pond hockey but I never played outdoor game like this,” Jurco said.
Many players make their first hockey memories while playing outdoors with friends and family, and the numerous outdoor games being played in Detroit and Ann Arbor during the Winter Festival and Winter Classic rejuvenate those moments for all who are involved and attending the festivities.
“I think it brings back memories of when you were a kid and when you’re playing and I think that helps,” Glendening said. “It’s just something that you’ve grown up doing so it just kind of brings you back to your roots.”
Whether the five young players participate in the outdoor game at Comerica Park with the Griffins or the Big House with the Red Wings, they will still have a unique opportunity to play in an once-in-a-lifetime game that many players have only dreamt about.
“Yeah it’s special,” Glendening said. “Some people don’t get to play in one so to have been able to play in three already and have the opportunity for one more is pretty special.”