Winter Classic 2014, the latest entry in the National Hockey League’s series of annual outdoor games held in major sports stadiums, drew 105,491 excited fans who endured cold and snow on New Year’s Day to watch what ABC News deemed “the best classic yet,” and players praised as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The contestants in this year’s Winter Classic, held at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor were cross-border rivals the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, both franchises with long and storied NHL traditions. They were each members of the NHL’s “Original Six” from 1927, the first, small group of teams to comprise what became the current version of the NHL.
The thermometer when this years’s Winter Classic got underway read a frigid 13 degrees Fahrenheit, with 10 mph winds bringing the wind chill down to zero, according to the Associated Press. For the five previous Winter Classic games, average temperature was 39 degrees.
Snow fell steadily throughout the game, making action on the ice sloppy as players had difficulty skating and controlling the puck.
But perhaps the least important element of yesterday’s Winter Classic was the result. Toronto defeated Detroit 3-2 in an overtime shootout, with Maple Leaf’s star Tyler Bozak scoring both a goal in the third period and the shootout goal that gave his team the victory.
But for fans, players and the league, the event took precedence over the happenings on the rink itself, set up in the middle of the field normally used by Michigan State for its college football games.
The crowd would be an official Guinness World Record for a sporting event if certified by Guinness officials, breaking the previous record set in the same stadium in 2010 when a college football game between arch-rivals Michigan and Michigan State packed in 104,173.
However, the New Year’s Day Winter Classic may fall short of Guinness certification because Guinness counts actual attendance, not simply tickets sold. Due to traffic problems and the weather, some — though not many — of the game’s ticket holders may not have made it to the game.
“We know we sold 105,000-plus tickets,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told USA Today. “But we also suspect there were some no-shows because we heard stories of people taking two, two-and-a-half hours to get here from downtown.”
Nonetheless, the 2014 Winter Classic definitely set a record for largest attendance ever at a hockey game. More importantly, it made the seasoned professionals of these two NHL teams feel like kids again. Most hockey players start as children playing outdoors, often on frozen ponds.
“You know, when you’ve been out there before, it’s been on a pond or something like that, with zero people in the crowd,” Red Wings player Daniel Alfredsson told Fox Sports. “And now it’s over a hundred thousand, so it’s new for everybody.”
Th NHL played its first Winter Classic in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the National Football League Buffalo Bills in Buffalo, New York. That game held the previous attendance record for a hockey game, drawing 71,217 to the inaugural Winter Classic.