DETROIT — Some of the greatest players in Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs history will be skating in a doubleheader of the Alumni Showdown as part of the 2012 Hockeytown Winter Festival.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park, former Red Wings Joe Kocur, Dino Ciccarelli, Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay were joined by former Maple Leafs Kevin Maguire, Wendel Clark (briefly a Red Wing) and Jim McKenny, along with representatives from both organizations, to announce that there are going to be two alumni games on Dec. 31 for one price.
Among those players confirmed besides those seven are Mickey Redmond, John Ogrodnick, Luc Robitaille, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy, Mark Howe, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty, Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon and Gordie Howe on the Wings’ side.
For the Leafs, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Darcy Tucker, Felix Potvin, Mike Palmateer, Dave Andreychuk, Doug Gilmour, Curtis Joseph (former Red Wing as well), Johnny Bower and Ron Ellis will be playing.
“Everything we’ve had a chance to do in our NHL careers just from the first day you got drafted to the first day you played a game to your first goal, you just don’t know that it can keep getting better,” Kocur said. “Watching the Winter Classics over the last few years and wondering if Detroit was ever going to play in one at home, because when they played in Chicago there was no alumni game.
“To hear the announcement and get the call from Kenny (Holland), if I wanted to play, it was just another special moment in my NHL and Red Wing career.”
It would seem that an invite to the game is the hottest ticket in town.
“We’re getting calls from guys, they’re coming out of the woodwork,” McKenny said. “Everybody wants to play in this thing. I talked to Curt Walker, he’s living in Atlanta, and he’s dying to play. Shakey Walton I don’t think has had skates on for 10 years and he’s dying to play.
“It’s really a wonderful thing to bring all the guys together. We’ll probably have 150 alumni here in Detroit for that week.
“It’ll be fantastic to see the players and their families. It’s going to be like a big convention for us.”
Now the only question is: will Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov be among them?
“Obviously we’re going to ask all of them,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We’re going to try to get as many of the greatest Red Wings in the 90-plus-year history of the Red Wings to be out here.”
Kocur said he’ll definitely be encouraging those players, especially Yzerman, to come and play.
“I can’t see why Nick wouldn’t play,” Kocur said. “We could sure use him on defense. I don’t know that Stevie has really put skates on since he retired. And he had a lot of tough injuries, his knees and stuff like that.
“I can guarantee there’s a lot of calls going into him, there’s a lot of lobbying, trying to get him here.
“He’s with a different organization, too, which makes it a little more difficult for him. Every player that’s involved would love to have him here and would make a personal plea to him to show up.”
Even Hall of Fame players like Ciccarelli have hockey heroes that they’re looking forward to seeing in one of the alumni games.
“I was 14-15, dreaming of playing in the NHL and I was Darryl Sittler as a kid outside in my backyard rink,” Ciccarelli said. “Now I’m going to be playing against these guys in a big game. You think of things like that.
“It’s going to be so much fun, seeing some of my old teammates. You’re playing against guys you idolized, you’re playing outside in front of 40,000 people and it’s New Year’s Eve. Does it get any better than that?
“We’re like kids out here and we’re going to have a great time.”
While former enforcer Kocur claims that “we’ve all forgotten how to fight,” he also said it’s going to be great to face off against some former bitter foes and play with some of his favorite former teammates.
“Getting back with the Grind Line, I think that’s going to be very exciting,” Kocur said. “Playing against Wendel again, we had some good battles back in the day.
“I haven’t heard their whole roster but they’ve got a lot of guys that we’d had some good battles with. It would be funny if some of those guys were in the lineup next to you, kind of laugh about the old times and how we used to hate each other.”
Holland noted that in the long rivalry between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs that the Wings have won 275 games and the Leafs 276.
“If we can win the alumni game, that sets up the ultimate rubber match,” for the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Holland said.
Don’t think these alumni players are taking the game lightly, either.
“I don’t think it’s going to change just because it’s an alumni game,” Ciccarelli said. “It’s in our blood and obviously we want to win and want to produce.”
In addition to the alumni doubleheader, it will be the first time that Ontario Hockey League teams have a chance to play in an outdoor game.
The Plymouth Whalers will play the London Knights and the Windsor Spitfires will play the Saginaw Spirit on Dec. 29, the day after the Great Lakes Invitational.
“We talked about it three months ago at that last press conference but when you actually come out on the field and you’re looking up and seeing all the seats and where the rink’s going to be, it’s going to be exciting,” Whalers coach Mike Vellucci said.
Vellucci said the Whalers already have great fans, but it would be good to add some new fans as well. With their participation in the Hockeytown Winter Festival, Vellucci said people may see players that will one day play in the NHL.
“The Gretzkys, the Yzermans, all the guys that came from our league, I think people are going to start to realize that when they come to our games, they’re hooked already because the hockey’s great but then they realize these guys are going to be in the NHL in a year or two,” Vellucci said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Tickets for the OHL games, the American Hockey League game between the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies and the 48th Annual Great Lakes Invitational will go on sale to the public Aug. 1.
The 2012 Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings Alumni Showdown tickets will go on sale to Wings and Leafs season ticket holders Aug. 1 and to the general public in mid-August.