Photo via @Jeffler
When James van Riemsdyk scored the 1-1 goal midway through the second period, a roar went up that had never quite been heard before at a hockey game. There were about 50 thousand Maple Leafs fans in attendance at Michigan Stadium, outdoors, untempered by obnoxious arena music or drowning goal horns.
Playing inside certainly has its benefits. The ice conditions are better, the sight lines are better, and games don’t take nearly four hours to complete. Still, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the record-breaking crowd in attendance. Despite the snow and gimmickry, it’s nice to have a game every once in a while that reminds us what sports are: a welcome distraction from daily life, full of absurdity, silly rules, and unfairness.
Toronto won the game 3-2 in a shootout. Tyler Bozak, the most polarizing athlete in Toronto, got the winner. It was just one of those games, and it was awesome.
The first few shifts of the game gave us a preview of the conditions. Pucks were bouncing all over the place. One of the most frustrating things about playing outside is how often you have to look down at the puck. It doesn’t just stay on your stick like arena ice, and when you’re dicking around with friends, you can’t pull off majestic looking rushes like the pros.
Perhaps it was nice to see NHL players have to focus so hard on controlling the bouncing puck for that reason. Jonathan Ericsson, Nazem Kadri, and Cody Franson all had the puck hop over them in the first two minutes of the game. At 2:22, the ice crew took a two-minute long break to shovel off a mountain of snow from the ice. The snow wasn’t letting up, and the conditions were clearly going to worsen, but the conditions are always the same for both teams.
In the first period, there wasn’t a whole lot going on, other than to marvel at the aesthetics of the event. The football stadium could just pack people in for a cramped environment that you can’t get at a baseball stadium. The jerseys worn by both teams were bright and vibrant, duelling red and blue sweaters. With the snow, it was perfect to look at, if you could get around that not much of anything happened in the first period.
Well, except this:
That’s courtesy of SB Nation. I would not be surprised if Lupul got a phone call from the league for a blatant cross-check to the neck, but he got two minutes on the play and Detroit didn’t manage much in the way of quality chances on their powerplays.
The second period opened up a little more. Jonathan Bernier and Jimmy Howard had to make some big stops, with Nazem Kadri nearly opening the scoring after what seemed like an hour of gametime. Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring for Detroit, because if Jonas Gustavsson wasn’t going to shut out the Leafs on national TV, the next least desirable thing would have to happen.
Right at the end of the second period, James van Riemsdyk scored a goal of the year candidate, knocking a waist-high puck out of midair top shelf on a rebound:
The Leafs broke the tie in the third period. A long point shot from Dion Phaneuf was deftly tipped by one Tyler Bozak, who played maybe his finest game as a Maple Leaf. His linemates van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel were the only Leafs that showed up offensively, and he went 14-10 on faceoffs, including 11-5 against the wizard Pavel Datsyuk.
After some dangerous looks on a late powerplay, the Red Wings tied it on a Justin Abdelkader goal. In the overtime, the horn blew with Henrik Zetterberg on a breakaway so the team’s could switch ends. Yes, it was monumentally unfair, but also hilarious, and besides, who said sports were fair?
For the shootout, the ice guys cleared one area of the ice, shovelling all the snow into a snowbank along the corner of the boards. It might have taken a few minutes to find any puck that was accidentally shot it into it. Regardless, Datsyuk opened the scoring with a beautiful backhand. Joffrey Lupul tied it on a shot, and after the puck fell off Tomas Tatar’s stick, Bozak had the chance to be the hero:
What a beautiful camera angle used by NBC. CBC used the Sky-Cam on a Danny Cleary rush earlier in the game that would have won awards had Cleary finished off the play. Just a hard shot by Bozak low stick side. Nothing to see here. Leafs win, 3-2.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
For shootouts, win or lose, I like to call this “Why the Leafs tied” but I won’t today. Jonathan Bernier stole the game for Toronto. Maybe not late, but while the game was even in the late stages, it certainly took less time for the Red Wings to find their legs than the Leafs. Bernier stopped 12 Detroit powerplay shots, didn’t allow rebounds off of long point attempts, and kept the puck out in several extended sequences around the crease. He won a race against Tomas Tatar to a loose puck, and Tatar could have burst in alone otherwise.
Toronto was outshot 43-26 but still managed the two points. Regardless of how it happened, the PDO Gods were smiling on the Maple Leafs.
See above section? Otherwise, Dion Phaneuf played a fine game as well, with a couple of big collisions, and over 10 minutes of ice-time against Datsyuk, who managed just three shots in his 24:17 of ice-time. Can’t really say the same about Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson (as well as the Leafs second line) who all got eaten up in possession by the Henrik Zetterberg line.
NUMB3RS AND NOTES
Here’s the Fenwick chart. Please note that the home team is always blue on these things and the road team is red, making this a little confusing at first. You can see it took the teams a little while to get going, but once they did, Detroit had the definite advantage in shots.
The individual numbers aren’t up on the game page yet, but I’d be willing to assume that it was a pretty poor day for the Leafs except for the first line. Still, wins is wins, and wins is good to get against division rivals on the road. The Leafs are now clear of the Red Wings in the standings and would no longer be the first team to drop out of the playoffs should New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York or Ottawa go on a sustained run over the next month or so.
So, that was fun. Kessel and van Riemsdyk, two of the better Leafs in the game, were announced for the Team USA Olympic squad in a short ceremony after the game. Leafs get back to work at the Air Canada Centre Saturday. They’ll have a couple of days off, during which they’ll get new toy Tim Gleason accustomed to the lineup. Happy New Year, Leaf fans. May the Hockey Gods shine on Toronto in 2014 the way they did in 2013…