The worst kept secret in hockey was out today: The Detroit Red Wings will face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the next Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on January 1, 2013. I wrote on my blog last month that this will be hockey heaven and a win-win situation for everyone. There’s a 99.999% chance that the attendance record for a hockey game will be set. This will be billed as the Hockeytown Winter Festival.
Prior the the actual WC, there will be other outdoor games at Detroit’s Comerica Park. The Ontario Hockey League will showcase a doubleheader featuring the Windsor Spitfires taking on the Saginaw Spirit and the London Knights will go up against the Plymouth Whalers. College hockey’s Great Lakes Invitational tournament will also take place, as well as an American Hockey League matchup that will have the Red Wings and Maple Leafs’ minor league affiliates going at it.
The game that I will definitely be looking forward to is the WC Alumni Game. Since I was a kid, I was in awe of the Maple Leafs/Red Wings rivalry in, what I like to call, the “Original 21.” Living right across the border from Canada, I was lucky enough to get the CBC network along with local channels (kudos if you remember the PASS Network) featuring the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. I have so many memories of watching these two teams going at it.
Just thinking about it, there might have to be “A” and “B” teams for both clubs. Hockey minds like myself have many questions like, who will make the cut for the Alumni game? Will someone who played for both teams (i.e. Borje Salming or Curtis Joseph) switch jerseys between periods?
Will Gordie Howe lace up the skates and take part in the Alumni game? I have been thinking about that since 66-year old Bernie Parent put on the goalie pads to play in the last Alumni game for the Philadelphia Flyers. Even though he played about five minutes and faced five shots, it was so cool to watch. If Bernie could do it, how about Gordie, right?
To backtrack a little bit, when I was a kid and first started watching hockey, I first associated Gordie Howe with the Hartford Whalers, the team that he played for in the 1979-80 season as a 52-year old. It was his 26th and final season in the NHL (he played six years in the WHA after being retired from 1971-73). As a seven-year old, I never thought that a grey-haired guy would play sports. Besides, what did I know when I was that age, right?
When I think of Gordie Howe and what’s he’s meant to hockey, is the equivalent to Babe Ruth and what he accomplished in Baseball. Both meant so much to their respective sports and both have legendary status.
Gordie could do it all; He scored goals in an era where it was difficult to do so and he mix it up with the best of them (ask Lou Fontinato). In all, he scored 802 NHL career goals (second behind Wayne Gretzky) and racked up 1850 NHL points (third all-time).
The older I got, the more I read and watched footage of Gordie and most of it would be of him as a Red Wing. I have gotten to meet him a few times over the years at autograph signings and he’s one of the nicest current/former athletes that I’ve ever met. I even had a picture taken with him a few years ago. Right after the picture was taken, he was about to playfully give me an elbow. We talked a bit each of the times that I’ve met him and I would be grinning from ear to ear and would think to myself “Wow, I met Gordie Howe,”.
In my opinion, Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player that I’ve ever seen and with that being said if I could take Doc Brown’s DeLorean and travel back in time to see an athlete live and in person in his prime, Gordie would be at the top of my list (with Bobby Orr being a 1-B), preferably playing with his “Production Line” linemates, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel.
If he were to agree to take part in the Alumni game, even if he plays for one shift and skates around the rink untouched, I would be such a happy camper. For me to see Gordie Howe wearing a Red Wings jersey in an exhibition game like this is all that I need. It would definitely be the highlight of the week’s hockey festivities.
About the Author: Alex lives in Hockeytown, USA. He is a huge Red Wings fan going back to the 1985-86 season when they were dead last with 40 points. He has seen the transition from the 'Dead Wings' to one of the top franchises in sports. You can also follow him at twitter.com/alexmuscat73.