Winter Classic cancellation a crushing blow to Detroit, and to the players as well

By Dave Waddell -

The National Hockey League executed the classic kill Nov. 2, ensuring a winter of discontent among Detroit Red Wing and Toronto Maple Leaf fans.

In a short written statement announcing the cancellation of the Winter Classic, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly removed any doubt the game schedule for Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium between Toronto and Detroit could serve as leverage to jumpstart the talks to end the league’s lockout of its players.

A record-crowd for a hockey game of at least 115,000 was expected for the contest. It would also have been the first Winter Classic to feature a Canadian team since the event’s inception in 2008.

“The logistical demands for staging events of this magnitude made today’s decision unavoidable. We simply are out of time,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a written statement. “We are extremely disappointed, for our fans and for all those affected, to have to cancel the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival events.

“We look forward to bringing the next Winter Classic and the Hockeytown Winter Festival to Michigan.”

Those holding tickets can either keep them to use for the next Classic or opt for a refund. Refund information can be found at nhl.com/winterclassicrefund.

The decision to postpone the popular event came because a payment of $250,000 was due to the University of Michigan Nov. 2 if the game was to be held. The school will still pocket $100,000 despite the cancellation.

The reaction to the NHL’s announcement was predictable in the Detroit area.

There were mountains of abuse from players, fans and even a radio campaign belittling NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

“It’s surprising people actually have the courage to cancel something like that when so much relies upon it and so many people are looking forward to it,” Wings’ defenseman Ian White said.

“I think to this point, we’ve already had some damage that won’t be able to be undone to our sport. They just continue to pile it on.

“It actually embarrasses me as a player. You go out in public; people view us differently from this.

“The NHL just continues along this path.”

For veterans like Todd Bertuzzi, the loss of the NHL’s marquee regular-season event is particularly disappointing. With both sides looking like they’re prepared to go nuclear in this dispute, the clock is working against players in the twilight years of their careers. The 2004-05 lockout saw 200 NHL players, who had played in the league prior to the stoppage, not return once the action resumed.

“I’ve always wanted to play in one,” Bertuzzi said.

“Talking with guys on the Red Wings, all the guys when they played in Chicago said it was outstanding atmosphere, and for family, too.

“I have kids that that can appreciate something like that and be able to be a part of it, plus we had a lot of family and friends from Kitchener who were coming up. We booked hotels, so a little bit of a downer.”

It was even more personally disappointing for Bertuzzi than most players. The event had turned out to be more than just a spectator event for his family.

“I think the whole thing is tough for everyone,” Bertuzzi said.

“My kid’s team was playing at Comerica, the alumni game was going to be superb with the

amount of talent both teams had. I think it’s a big loss.”

However, the big loser, in the short term, is the area economy.

The league estimated the Classic, along with its two-weeks of support events, would’ve generated in excess of $75-million in economic activity.

In addition to the Winter Classic game, an ambitious Hockeytown Winter Fest was scheduled to start Dec. 15 in downtown Detroit. That too has been killed off.

A second outdoor rink would’ve been set up at Comerica Park to host several games.

Among the event’s schedules were two Leafs-Wings alumni contests, an AHL game between NHL teams’ farm clubs, the Great Lakes Invitational college tournament, an OHL doubleheader  along with some high school games.

Detroit winger Johan Franzen, though disappointed at the Classic’s cancellation, tried to keep things in perspective.

“Losing a season is more disappointing than losing a game,” Franzen said.

The only bright spot in Daly’s announcement is the massive cash injection into the Michigan economy is merely postponed and not lost entirely.

The same optimism cannot be shared about the prospects of salvaging the season at this point.

“It’s definitely starting to get that feel,” said White comparing the events so far to the last lockout.

“I started to get that feeling a little while ago when they took a look at our proposals for a few minutes and just brushed them aside without any considerations. They seem to really enjoy being the hard-line guys.

“There’s not a whole lot of give and take it seems. It’s starting to feel like ’04 and it’s a bad feeling.”

However, White and his teammates aren’t quite ready to give up hope quite yet. The last time around the decision to cancel the entire season didn’t come until mid-January.

“I think every game that’s canceled it increases the chances, especially a big event like this,” White said. “I’m still optimistic.

“It kind of feels like they’re following the same playbook as the NBA, the same time line with laying out different proposals. Fortunately the NBA got a season in.

“Unfortunately, it took them that long to do it. If there’s any optimism for us, it seems to be going the same strides as the NBA.”