TROY, Mich. — The NHL sure knows how to ruin a good thing.
Since the previous lockout killed the entire 2004-05 season, the league had actually done some good things to move the game forward: changing the rules to allow skilled players more freedom; working to prevent and treat head injuries more effectively; and creating the Winter Classic, an annual outdoor celebration of hockey to ring in the New Year.
The 2013 Winter Classic was set to be a real extravaganza, centered around storied rivals Detroit and Toronto. The Jan. 1 game itself was to played in front of 100,000-plus fans at Michigan Stadium, home of the University of Michigan football team.
Before the main attraction, a two-week Winter Festival was scheduled at Comerica Park in Detroit, involving all levels of hockey and two alumni games. The alumni games were nearly as captivating as the Winter Classic itself because Hall of Fame players from both the Red Wings and Maple Leafs were set to play.
The NHL, in a news release Friday afternoon, called the whole thing off because of the lockout.
Some of the Red Wings remain in the Metro Detroit area, gathering for informal practices at the Troy Sports Center. They weren’t happy about the latest news.
“It’s surprising that people actually have the courage to cancel something like that when so much relies upon it and so many people were looking forward to it,” defenseman Ian White said. “I think to this point we’ve already had some damage that won’t be able to be undone to our sport. They just continue to pile it on, and it actually embarrasses me as a player.”
Goaltender Jimmy Howard was one of the players who went to Michigan Stadium when the team made the original announcement about the event.
“Just being down there last year for the media day when they announced it, being out there on the 50-yard line, just looking up and thinking, this is going to happen next year, it was very exciting at the time,” Howard said. “It was exciting for not only myself and my friends and family, but also for the cities of Detroit and Toronto. It’s disappointing that it’s come down to this.”
Danny Cleary said he had more than 30 family members planning to come for the Winter Classic and Winter Festival.
“It sucks,” he said. “I’m almost in disbelief a little bit.”
When the current lockout first began, most people thought that the league and players’ association would somehow find a way to get a deal done in time to save the Winter Classic.
Now that it’s been canceled, this could be a sign that the entire season is moving closer to cancellation.
“I started to get that feeling a little while ago,” White said.
Cleary said he’s still optimistic and believes there’s a better-than-50 percent chance some of the season can be saved. But time is running short.
“I really do feel that there’s something that can be done,” Cleary said. “We just have to find a way to honor player contracts. If we can find a way to do that, we’ve got hockey.
Unlike icing the Winter Classic, that would be a good thing.