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Wings Classic Journal: Day 4

by Lindsey Ungar / Detroit Red Wings contributor Lindsey Ungar was asked to document her many observations of the NHL’s second annual Winter Classic played on New Year’s Day between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks at historic Wrigley Field.

Here is her report (all times are ET): contributor Lindsey Ungar braved the cold Windy City temperatures at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day.
CHICAGO –  Roving around every level of Wrigley, I kept a pencil and notebook in hand to give a behind-the-scenes account of the entire Winter Classic experience — conversations and observations that were only possible by hustling up and down seven flights of ramps with a credential draped around my neck.

9:30 a.m. – I arrived at Wrigley, and snapped a quick photo outside before walking through Gate G.

9:45 – Checked out seat location in the press box, walking past the organist’s booth, as well as the radio and TV announcers on the way in. It’s so warm in there, and much more spacious than the confines at Joe Louis Arena.

10:10 – Now it’s time to head back to the NHL merchandise stand to pick up a Winter Classic T-shirt for my sister. I learned the hard way last year that if you don’t get your merchandise before the game, you probably won’t get any at all.

10:20 – Overheard three photographers talking. The most senior one told the newbie, “If someone tells you you’re not allowed to be here, say, ‘they said it was OK.’ ”

10:40 – I chatted with Michael Felberbaum, a writer for The Associated Press. It’s great to talk to other journalists at the event and see what’s peaking their interest.

Felberbaum talked about how these kinds of events make-up for all of the monotonous days working in journalism. I wonder if this high makes up for the all the lows for fans and players, too.

10:45 – Took another brave walk outside into the lower deck. Kids decked out in throwback Detroit and Chicago jerseys are skating around the auxiliary rink in center field.

Last year, my seats at the Winter Classic were right behind the makeshift pond in the end zone at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. I loved how the NHL played up the whole getting-back-to-its-roots storyline throughout the event. It was great to see.

10:55 – Time to walk over to the Spectator Plaza at Clark Street and Waveland Avenue. As I passed through Gate G, hundreds of fans were already lined up to get into the stadium, which was scheduled to open at 11 a.m.

11:00 – Just entered the Spectator Plaza, which is absolutely rocking. “Lady Marmalade” is blaring from the speakers, as fans are checking out Winter Classic gear, taking photos, getting their faces painted, and waiting in line to test their hockey skills against interactive versions of Detroit’s Chris Osgood and Chicago’s Cristobal Huet.

11:15 – Wandering around and talking to fans for an article I’m writing for the Web site. In the background? On stage, local band Maggie Speaks is singing, “Save a Blackhawk, Ride a Red Wing”, a parody of Big & Rich’s country hit.

Just overheard a fan say, “This is the greatest day of my life” — and the game hasn’t even started.  I’m already having a good time, too, but my contacts are starting to blur up from the wintry windy weather. Hope this doesn’t turn into a problem.

12:00 – Zambonis are out on the ice.

12:15 – Just checked The Weather Channel on my phone — feels like 14 degrees. I really wish they’d have a prominent display of the conditions inside the stadium; I remember NBC talking about it a lot last year. With the potential to have a huge effect on the game, I want to be able to see the stats on the conditions as quickly as shots on net.

12:45 – Red Wings take to the ice for warm-ups. The game was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. ET, but that’s clearly not happening.

The “Detroit sucks” chants are already starting. Hawks get on the ice a couple minutes later, which quickly turns the cheering to “Lets Go Hawks.”

12:55 – Start heading to the upper deck to get a better view of warm-ups. Stands are already full.

1:00 – Still about six minutes left in warm-ups. A vendor just walked past yelling, “Ice cold beer here!” Cold? Really?

Head back down to talk to more fans in the lower deck before the game starts. Wrigley is a maze, as I just took another wrong turn. There are definitely not enough signs. But I must be smiling — someone just yelled, “Having a good time?”

1:05 – Warm-ups just ended. Fans are really getting into it now, going back and forth with the “Detroit sucks” and “Lets go Red Wings” chants.

1:10 – There’s 15 minutes on game clock, but it’s not moving. They’ve just starting an on-field ceremony saluting Chicago sports legends, including baseball hall-of-famer Billy Williams and hockey great Bobby Hull.

1:20 – Kids on the auxiliary rink head off the ice. It’s almost game time!

Talking with a fan from Buffalo, who is decked out in a Team Canada jersey with Steve Yzerman’s name and number on the back. Said she couldn’t get tickets last January, but so glad she made the drive this New Year’s Day for the Wrigley experience.

1:25 – Time for the national anthems. Canadian Army reservist Scotty Newlands sings “O Canada.” I’ve never heard him perform before, but I chatted with him at the NHL New Year’s Eve party at the House of Blues. He wasn’t nervous at all to sing in the NHL’s new signature event.

Then, long-time Blackhawks anthem singer Jim Cornelison belts out  “The Star-Spangled Banner”. I’ve been to a few Blackhawks’ games at the United Center since I moved to Chicago, and I still can’t figure out why the fans cheer throughout the entire U.S. anthem. Must be a tradition.

A burst of fireworks went off during the line “the bombs bursting in air.” Windsor Star writer Bob Duff later pointed out how thrilled the naval pilots must have been as they flew over Wrigley amidst the pyrotechnics.

1:30 – The PA announcer attempts to get the fans ready for the visual stunt, where fans will hold up colored cards and turn them over on cue to display “Happy New Year.”

I don’t think I’ll be able to see this from down in the 100 Level, so I ran back up to the 400 Level. Good idea — except for the fact that I’m really not in shape to run up seven ramps in less than two minutes.

1:40 – The organ sounds great. This is a nice touch that they didn’t have at Ralph Wilson Stadium; makes it seem like a real, vintage hockey game.

Just passed the Blackhawks’ Ice Crew, decked in hot pants and knee-high socks. They won’t be cleaning off the ice at commercial breaks today — just freezing.

Took another couple flights of stairs up to the press box, right in time to see the bone-crunching Brent Seabrook hit that dumped Dan Cleary into the Blackhawks’ bench.

1:45 – Kris Versteeg puts the Hawks up, 1-0, with a power-play goal at 3:24. While it wasn’t great to see the Wings down early, the yellow “1” that appeared on the classic manual Wrigley scoreboard looked amazing. Writers in the press box were talking about how cool it looked immediately.

It was wise to warm up in the press box, but it’s good for watching, not experiencing the game. The fans are muted out by the thick windows and the audio from the NBC broadcast. The journalists are much nosier than usual, as well — ooh-ing and ahh-ing to the action on the ice. Heading out.

1:50 – Just saw a cameraman outside the Wings’ zone take a spill on an icy patch in the field. Only at outdoor games! There’s also a kid hanging an octopus by a noose over the upper deck. They teach them to hate the Wings from birth apparently.

1:55 – During a TV timeout, they’re playing the commercial “Hockey never left Chicago, but it has definitely returned” on the big video board.

2:00 – Weather update: 27 degrees, feels like 15. The Weather Channel is now predicting snow at 2 p.m.; I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

2:10 – Just noticed that the bin they’re been using to clean up excess snow on the ice has both throwback logos on it. Nice touch.

2:14 – First period ends, signaling a standing ovation from the fans. People immediately start dialing their cell phones, probably bragging to their friends where they are. Last year in Buffalo, it was impossible to get service as the networks overloaded with calls.

Heading back down to the media room to charge my camera battery, which has already died. Hopefully there is still some pizza left over.

2:35 – Walking on the main concourse and noticed that the mens bathroom line near Section 129 extends well over a hundred feet. 

2:45 – Just saw actor Vince Vaughn peering out of his luxury suite.

Apparently the news is spreading: an usher and a Blackhawks’ fan were talking about the absurd mens bathroom line. The usher assured him it’s usually not that long for Cubs’ games, and the fan responded, “It has to be the longest in professional sports history.”

2:55 – A vendor with a tray of hot chocolate just passed by me on the stairs. Brilliant.

Watching from the 100 Level again (about 30 rows back), but some of the corners are partially obstructed, so you can’t see the puck or half of Pavel Datsyuk.

At Ralph Wilson, I sat in row 34, and if I wanted to see any detailed play, I had to watch the video screen. The confines here are much more intimate, the fans much closer to the action.

3:00 – The crowd in the lower deck is thinning out with five minutes left in the second. Are the bathroom lines getting longer?

The NHL must be ecstatic to have a tie game (3-3) for the second year in a row.

3:05 – Wonder if they’ll sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” or “The Hockey Song” during the second intermission …

Strange to not see fans packed around the rink glass. Wonder if it seems as loud on-ice, or maybe louder due to the sheer quantity at Wrigley.

Just spotted a Wings’ fan with the sign, “Our Mayor Can Beat Up Your Governor.” Definitely going up to interview her at intermission.

3:15 – Still no snow. Bathroom line has doubled in length.

3:32 – The Weather Channel is still predicting a 30 percent chance of snow. It’s been overcast the entire day, but I’m tired of getting my hopes up for precipitation.

3:40 – Cannot believe that the Red Wings have scored five unanswered goals!

3:45 – Talking to Red Wings’ season-ticket holders in Section 422. There’s a much more raucous atmosphere up here.

3:50 – Just approached by an inebriated fan, who asks, “Are you a reporter?” Maybe the pencil and notebook were a giveaway.

4:12 – Game over. It flew by so fast! Down to the locker rooms for post-game interviews.

4:35 – The ushers are sending the stragglers toward the exits. I flash my media credentials so I can stay a little longer.

4:40 – Finally sitting down to transcribe and write, just as Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville takes the podium. Total adrenaline rush still.

7:15 – After lingering in the seats and snapping a few more photos, I finally leave Wrigley for the last time — at least on the hockey beat.

I walked through the concourse, slowly taking in the sights. The place was an absolutely mess, with beer bottles strewn upon the floor, and uneaten pretzels and fries stacked in boxes. But it was Wrigley, and a hockey game that was a success for the NHL and an even bigger success for the Red Wings had just ended on a rink in the middle of a baseball diamond.

The exit didn’t deserve to be rushed.

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