There was a lot of merchandise on sale Monday night at Comerica Park. Much of it was for the Winter Classic, with all kinds of apparel and memorabilia even taking over the Detroit Tigers team shop. One stand even had some for the Grand Rapids Griffins, featuring the classy looking ‘G’ emblem that was reminiscent of the ‘D’ on the jerseys the Red Wings wore the first time they played in the NHL’s annual January 1 outdoor game.
What didn’t appear to be on sale anywhere was a t-shirt that said “I survived the Griffins-Marlies outdoor game.” That would have been appropriate, because for the fans and the poor concessions workers used to serving up beer and hot dogs during baseball games, it was a frigid experience to say the least. The temperature at the first face-off was 22 degrees, and it only got colder as the game went on.
Hot chocolate helped (and even more if one took the option to add a shot of Bailey’s, Kahlua or peppermint schnapps). So did the fact that hockey fans are a tough, enthusiastic, lively bunch.
But even though it was an electric atmosphere, especially for a regular season AHL game, and something that everyone who loves hockey should experience once if possible, one thing was clear: games played in sub-20 degree temperatures are hard on the bodies of spectators. That’s even more true if those games go to overtime, and then on to a shootout just for good measure.
Here are some more random thoughts from the Griffins’ eventual 4-3 shootout loss:
The conditions in outdoor games really affect play
There were some articles leading up to the Winter Classic suggesting that too much cold can be just as bad for a sheet of hockey ice as too much warmth. That certainly seemed like the case on Monday, as the ice got ugly fast. The officials had to fill in holes on more than one occasion, and some of the longer timeouts asked fans to watch videos on the giant screen, presumably to take their attention away from the crews out with squeegees working on the ice.
The boards were like places pucks went to die, or the exact opposite of the notoriously springy boards at The Joe. Thomas McCollum could possibly blame the conditions for the two soft goals he gave up in the first period, just as Riley Sheahan might be able to point to some particularly bad ruts for ruining his chance to win the game in the final minute of regulation. Luke Glendening scored two goals and didn’t look like he realized either one had gone across the line.
In other words, we should all be thankful most AHL and NHL games are played indoors. The aesthetics of the sport we all love suffer without some control over Mother Nature.
There are few good seats for a hockey game in a baseball stadium
I already feel bad for a bunch of people attending the Winter Classic Alumni Showdown games, because they’re not going to be able to see much. My seats for Griffins-Marlies were six rows behind home plate, and I couldn’t see the puck in any part of the ice. The seats weren’t close enough or high enough to see over the boards.
Moving back toward the top of the lower level helped, but getting enough elevation meant moving much farther from the rink. Sections in baseball stadiums just don’t rise much as they go back. This is a bad thing for watching hockey.
Views at the Big House should be better except for the real nosebleed seats. Yet the rumor is that next year’s Winter Classic is going to be at National Park in Washington D.C. That’s unfortunate for everyone attending.
A lot of Toronto Maple Leafs fans are going to be at the Big House
This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but there were plenty of blue jerseys at Comerica on Monday. I’m certain I heard more chants for the Marlies than the Griffins.
Leafs fans have obviously traveled in significant numbers for the Winter Classic. Red Wings fans better be on top of their game to make sure it sounds like a home game for the host team on New Year’s Day.