NHL fans come out in force to set a new record.
Tyler Bozak netted the winning goal in a penalty-shot shootout Wednesday to give Toronto a 3-2 victory over Detroit in the National Hockey League’s annual Winter Classic outdoor game.
The largest crowd to ever attend an ice hockey game, 105,491 people, braved bitter conditions at Michigan Stadium to see Bozak flip the puck low to the right side of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard and into the net for the Maple Leaf triumph.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier. “It made it pretty hard with the snow coming down but that’s going to stay in my memory for the rest of my life.”
Michigan Stadium, the historic home of the University of Michigan’s American football squad known as “The Big House” and only a short drive from Detroit, had been the site of the previous world ice hockey attendance record when 104,173 watched Michigan and Michigan State college teams play in 2010.
Snow fell throughout the contest as clubs battled in windy conditions with temperatures at 13 degrees (minus-10 Celsius).
“The ice was pretty slippy,” Bernier said. “The snow was hitting your eyes sometimes, but it was a lot of fun.”
Detroit’s Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring with 6:46 remaining in the second period, deflecting a centering pass from fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg off his right skate and past Bernier.
Toronto equalized with only 37.9 seconds remaining in the second period when US left wing James van Riemsdyk, who went to high school across the street from Michigan Stadium, batted a rebound out of the air past Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard.
“I just got a couple of whacks at it and it happened to go in,” van Riemsdyk said. “You just want to get the puck in close to the net and hopefully it will bounce right. With the snow, you never know where it’s going to go.”
The Maple Leafs took the lead 4:41 into the third period when center Bozak, a Canadian, deflected Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf’s shot from the blue line past Howard.
But the Red Wings answered with 5:32 remaining in the third period when Brendan Smith cleared the puck from the boards into the goal crease and Justin Abdelkader backhanded the puck into the net while being checked by Phaneuf.
That set the stage for a scoreless overtime and the game was decided in a penalty-shot shootout, with each team taking three shots to make the most goals.
Alfredsson and van Riemsdyk were denied in round one. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk put a backhand high into the net just under the crossbar but Joffrey Lupul equalized for Toronto, flipping a wrist shot between Howard’s legs.
When Tomas Tatar was denied by Bernier, the stage was set for Bozak’s decider.
It was the 646th regular-season meeting between the Eastern Conference rivals, two of the NHL’s oldest clubs.
The game was to have been played a year ago but a money dispute between players and club owners shortened last season and caused the event to be postponed until New Year’s Day 2014.
It was Toronto’s 21st win in 42 games for 47 points, moving the Maple Leafs into sole possesion of fourth place in the East ahead of the Red Wings, who have 18 wins in 41 games for 45 points.
“It’s a great event and a great showcase for the league,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said.
The Leafs are 5-1-1 in their past seven meetings with the Red Wings.
Phaneuf signed a seven-year contract extension with the Maple Leafs worth $49 million on Tuesday.
Howard was announced as a member of the US Olympic team for next month’s Sochi Winter Olympics after the contest, where among his teammates will be Toronto standouts van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel.