By Stefan Kubus -
DETROIT - The SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival, kicking off December 15th and ending December 31st, will include everything from NCAA and OHL hockey to a pair of NHL alumni games.
Yes, you read that right.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland announced Wednesday at Comerica Park that there will, in fact, be two alumni games played at the home of the MLB’s Detroit Tigers in late December, simply because it was necessary with all the history between two of the NHL’s most storied franchises.
“We started off this process with the alumni game trying to put a roster together of 23, 24, 25 players in Detroit, and ultimately reached out to Toronto and felt that we had so many players we wanted to bring out and honor to be part of this alumni game,” Holland said. “Toronto was in the same situation, so we decided to have two games, so we can honor probably 23-25 players on two different teams. We can have 75, 80, 100 of the greatest players in Leaf and Red Wing history.
How that will pan out is still undecided, however.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to break down the game. That’s going to be for another time.”
The glaring history between the two teams is undoubtedly prevalent heading into both the alumni game and the Winter Classic itself.
“Detroit has won 275 games, Toronto has won 276,” said Holland. “Math wasn’t my best subject, but we’re one game down. If we win the alumni game, we can make the game at the Big House the ultimate rubber match. We obviously both won a lot of Stanley Cups over the years, so this sets up as a classic week with a classic game right here and eventually getting to the Big House in Ann Arbor.”
For Holland, it’s going to be an unforgettable experience being able to witness some of the all-time greats from both sides have at it.
“I’m looking at this game as a trip down Memory Lane. I grew up in British Columbia, I was a diehard Toronto Maple Leafs fan growing up… For me, as a fan, to be able to sit in the stadium and watch all these great Red Wing players and Leaf players on the same sheet of ice is going to be absolutely incredible.”
The Red Wings GM is certainly not alone in that regard.
Red Wings alumni Dino Ciccarelli, Joe Kocur, and Wendel Clark – he only played 12 games for the Red Wings, so he’ll rightfully be suiting up for the team he spent most of his career with in the Toronto Maple Leafs – all voiced similar thoughts on the upcoming winter spectacle.
“I get goosebumps even talking about it,” said Ciccarelli. “Here I’m in the Hall of Fame and stuff, but I’m thinking about playing against Darryl Sittler and some of these names… I was a kid idolizing these guys when i was 10, 12 years old. To be part of it with them, shaking their hands, and being part of the event is another dream come true.”
Although he’s surely amped up to take the ice in late December, Ciccarelli added that he isn’t ready just yet for the game physically.
“I still skate, but I might have to get myself in a little bit of better shape before the game, though,” Ciccarrelli said with a chuckle.
Joe Kocur shared similar feelings with his former GM and fellow Detroit alumnus. Kocur, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups with Detroit in 1997 and 1998, is also cousins with Wendel Clark, the former Maple Leafs captain.
“It’s always an honor for any athlete to get a chance to play with these guys,” said Kocur. “Wendel and I grew up together. Our families are great friends. His brother was the best man at my wedding, so we go back a long way.
“You can grow up and be best friends, but when you put the skates and jersey on, it’s a different game. You’ve got a job to do out there. You do it right, you do it clean, but sometimes you’ve got to do it hard, even on your good friends.”
On the other side of the border, Clark said it truly will be a privilege to compete in one of the hockey world’s most glamorous spectacles with and against some of the game’s true greats.
“You’ve got two teams that have been in the league forever, and both with great histories and tons of players in the areas that they live in and throughout North America, so it’s probably tough to pick the 20 guys,” Clark said. “It’s a great idea to have a second game to open up the option to have more guys be a part of it. It’s a one-time thing for a lot of guys, especially for the two teams playing.”
On the other side, Clark and another former Red Wing in Curtis Joseph were among Toronto’s early commitments to the alumni roster, as announced by Maple Leafs Vice President of Hockey Operations and former NHLer Dave Poulin today.
In addition to the aforementioned Red Wings, Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon will see time between the pipes, while skating out you can expect to see the ‘Grind Line’ of Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby (and Kocur), current Fox Sports Detroit Red Wings commentators Mickey Redmond and Larry Murphy, John Ogrodnick, Luc Robitaille, and Mark Howe.
Holland realizes just how significant an impact the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival will have on the city of Detroit.
“Six months out, to be sitting here, having a full house night after night for four or five days, watching OHL, college, and AHL hockey, and then having the alumni game, it’s really going to be an incredible, spectacular week for downtown Detroit.”