With ‘Classic’ backdrop, Wings fall in shootout

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If you had to pick the perfect backdrop for the NHL’s outdoor game, the Winter Classic on Wednesday at Michigan Stadium would fit the bill.

A steady snow fell throughout the game, with the heaviest downfall earlier in the day and the wind picking up later.

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Still, a crowd of 105,491 — a record for a hockey game — braved the conditions, and there was just a little more red attire in the stands than blue.

"It was great to step out of the tunnel and see all the fans out there and kind of a light snowfall coming down from above," Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. "I was telling some of the guys, it kind of looked like when you look at a picture and they Photoshop the perfect elements in there."

The No. 1 star of the game shouldn’t have come from the Detroit Red Wings or Toronto Maple Leafs, but rather from the team of people who spent time before the game and during every stoppage in play shoveling away the accumulating snow.

"I thought the ice was great," Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "It was more the snow that made it a little hard at times.

"But they did as good a job as they could, going out there and shoveling and keeping it clean from the snow as often as they could. I thought that was a real good job by everybody involved."

The snow shovelers probably skated 10 miles. But despite their efforts, with the volume of snow coming down, it was impossible to keep up, which frequently affected the play.

"The snow was definitely the toughest thing because sometimes you’re skating with the puck and then the puck was behind you because it hit a pile of snow," Wings defenseman Brendan Smith said. "You get to really see how good Pavel Datsyuk is because it almost didn’t affect him.

"For sure, it was tough. You had to make safer plays, maybe off the glass or off the boards and out, and made sure you were very efficient."

Said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle: "It was hard because the snow built up. When the snow wasn’t there, right after they scraped it, the pace of the game picked up.

"But as soon as the snow accumulated, then it was evident they couldn’t do much to the neutral ice. A lot of pucks were bouncing away, and a lot of things happening out there."

As with any game, the players adjusted as time went on. After nobody scored in the first, both teams scored in each of the second and third periods.

"I think both teams were feeling each other out in the first period," Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "It’s a different environment. That goes without saying. The snow coming down, the cold, you could really feel it.

"As the game went on, the second period and the third period, the pace really picked up and you could feel that the points were for real and that both teams really needed them."

Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson, who scored the game’s first goal, said things got better as the snowfall lessened later in the game.

"Early on, there were a few times you weren’t even sure you had the puck with you when you skated a few feet," he said. "But as the game went on, the conditions were real good."

As the Wings season has gone, the game ended up in a 2-2 tie at the end of overtime, forcing a shootout.

Once again, Mother Nature helped dictate things.

Datsyuk scored for the Wings, using his stick-handling ability to roof the puck over Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier, but it wasn’t so easy for the others.

Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak both scored on Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard without any attempts to deke.

"I came in on the same angle that I usually do, one that I’ve been having success with," Bozak said. "I actually made a last-second decision to shoot five-hole because he seemed to be out a long way. It looked like I surprised him."

Tomas Tatar, who shot right before Bozak, had problems handling the puck.

"The puck just started bouncing as soon as I started," Tatar said. "I kind of lost it on the way there and then I lost it there in front of the net. I didn’t get the shot. I was really mad."

The shootout loss and snowy conditions didn’t totally ruin the day for Wings coach Mike Babcock.

"The conditions made it so some of the skill in the game was eliminated, but I still thought the players in the game competed real hard," Babcock said. "l also thought that was a big part of the atmosphere of today’s game to make it more special.

"To me, today was a home run for hockey."