This weekend was supposed to be a joyous one for hockey in the state of Michigan. As the new year approaches, this weekend instead will remind fans of the pain of the NHL lockout and the cancellation of the Winter Classic.
When the NHL announced in February that the Detroit Red Wings would host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2013 Winter Classic, to be played at the “Big House” at the University of Michigan, Hockeytown was buzzing. Two Original Six teams would be involved, a Canadian team would take center stage for the first time and with Michigan Stadium’s capacity, attendance records would be shattered. Within a short time, alumni games, and AHL contest between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies, OHL games featuring the Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit and various high school games to be held at Comerica Park were added to the lineup.
Then the lockout happened, and one of its early casualties was the Winter Classic. While it comes as little consolation at the present time, the league has announced that the next Winter Classic will still be at the same venue and feature the same teams. There will be no Red Wings hockey in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, no alumni games this weekend featuring players like Wendel Clark, Curtis Joseph, Chris Chelios and Darren McCarty as Comerica Park sits empty. The AHL and OHL contests have been moved and rescheduled, but the potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in an outdoor game has passed.
The Griffins will still host the Marlies, at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on Saturday (instead of Sunday). Fans will be treated to a pre-game meet-and-greet with Kris Draper and Joey Kocur, and a Scotty Bowman bobblehead will be handed out celebrating “Red Wings Legends” day. The distraction will be nice, and at least some hockey will be played, but as snow falls statewide fans in Michigan are left to wonder about the missed opportunity to see an outdoor game.