The Road to My Winter Classic.

winter classic 2014 stadium view

I had a pretty great view, yeah?

(note: this lingered in drafts for a bit because I was hanging onto it since I didn’t feel like I did the trip justice.)

That was probably the longest I’ve ever waited for something and didn’t give up on it.

I finally made my way to the Winter Classic and you can push me into a volcano because at this point in time I am so happy and content, I wouldn’t even mind. And I say that as someone banging away on a laptop, relatively stranded in MSP for the next handful of hours, with not so much sleep and quite possibly the effects of being out in a snow storm for 5 hours setting in.

I never thought it would happen, really. It is the built in pessimism of being a Maple Leafs fan. It can all be summed up with the Top Gear adage, of “ambitious but rubbish.” And I set the bar incredibly low for this trip. I expected that I wouldn’t really see the game and I was just paying to say I went. But really, I did want to go and I am so thrilled I got to be there for what was quite possibly the most beautiful game of hockey in the messiest sort of way.

I was absolutely gutted and wrecked by the lockout. I had clung to the hope it would be solved and ironed out in time for THE game but knew it most likely would’t happen. I quite nearly purchased a Mikhail Grabovski jersey too. But good thing I didn’t as the Leafs yanked out my heart when they opted to buy him out. But I am delighted Mikhail is tearing it up with the Capitals. I went back and forth when my second chance came around to try this all again. What the hell, let it ride. I couldn’t back down. I even jokingly said I would dye my hair blue for the game.

I loved the hell out of a Detroit. It’s a great city. It always bothered me when people would rag on it when I told them that’s where I would be headed. it’s just a chip I carry around from living the bulk of my life in Spokane, and further, growing up in the rougher part of that town. Mostly, I feel like “it isn’t bad; just misunderstood.” And honestly, the rundown parts felt oddly familiar in that sense. But the city is tough as nails, and I respect the hell out of them for that.

I spent the bulk of my time there with Red Wings fans as that is the group I managed to get my ticket with. Over and over again I was asked just how the hell does a broad from Washington end up being a Leafs fan. And I’m still not entirely sure how it all happened. I would just joke I had a case of Stockholm Syndrome. I love the Leafs through their thousands of faults and myriad of fuckups and false starts, it works for me. It was nice to be in a town with such vibrant fans. I guess I didn’t realize how much I am removed from that feeling living out in the pacific northwest. It was just great walking around seeing people in hockey stuff all the time. I know it was probably a bit higher in concentration given all the Winter Classic events, but it was still super comforting.

And there were a lot of Leafs fans milling about Detroit. And wow, were some of them colossal jerk faces considering they were visiting. I did wear my Leafs stuff about and mostly got some glares but nothing major. Though I think a lot of the reactions related to my Slurpee blue, mermaid hair schema I have going on. I really don’t notice anymore when people are stopping to look at my hair but the two chicks I was with would let me know when I was getting the doubletakes and salty glares. I was nice and polite. I wasn’t there to disrespect the Red Wings. I knew better because it wasn’t my house. And really, the Red Wings fans were incredibly nice and civil so long as you aren’t opting to start a fight with them. Which really is a simple terms of agreement.

I don’t understand why some of the Leafs fans had to roll in and be hostile to their hosts. Basically, the only time that is acceptable for them to do so is in Montreal. I went to Hockeytown which was such a great atmosphere to be in as a fan. Just a massive bar and restaurant with a bunch of televisions so you can watch the game. There was a fair amount of Leafs fans there since Hockeytown is a stone’s throw from Comerica, where the AHL and alumni games were. The Wings were playing the Predators and I was embarrassed at how aggressively dickish other fans were cheering on the Predators. The Wings weren’t flipping anyone shit. They were welcoming hosts and seemed to be happy to have even more people in their hockey bubble regardless of the jersey. It got to a point where I was telling my table of Detroit people what they could sling back at the foul Toronto people. “You know, you can just tell them 1967 and that ends it.” But the thing is, they didn’t want to say that because they KNOW how these rounds of insults go and it ends up with the city being mocked for being bankrupt. They were so fiercely protective of Detroit. I really admired that. I had the tremendous benefit of being shown around Detroit by Liz. I didn’t know her other than it was Ally’s friend who was going to pick us up at the airport. Liz was an incredible tour guide because of how much she loves Detroit and understands it all. I got a tour of the right kind of things. And I can’t wait to visit again.

I think the game should go in the books as having the most hungover people present. My friends and I tried not to get too jubilant on New Year’s Ever knowing we had a long day ahead of us. We left the bar we had for the night and took our bus back to the hotel. The bar was still pouring drinks and we weren’t quiet ready for sleep yet. There was also a steampunk New Year’s party at the hotel which was cool and obnoxious at the same time. For whatever reason, that final one drink at the hotel bar somehow had everything turning into the Snake Juice episode of Parks and Rec. I stumbled to bed, set my alarm for a cool three hours and some change. I pulled on my three pairs of pants and all my other layers and headed down for breakfast. The gathering there was a sad state of affairs with everyone quietly eating plates of bacon and trying to avoid any forms of light.

We met in the lobby and waited for our bus. I was kitted out and looked much like a seven gear old trudging out to play in the snow. I don’t make the cutest marshmallow person. The bus ride was mostly a quiet time. We needed naps. We were excited and exhausted as the bus trudged through the storm. And Jeffler tweeted a picture of me sleeping on the bus. But it is ok. I had on my aviators and pink lipstick so I didn’t look too terrible. There wasn’t much tailgating from our group as we hadn’t planned on that. Instead we hung out on the bus and occasionally went outside to have a drink.

I shook when I walked into the stadium. Yes, it was cold. But I just didn’t believe I was there to see the game. I kept waiting for some sort of disaster to happen. My brain goes into doomsday scenarios and for a while I was convinced I was going to get into a car wreck and not be able to make the trip to Michigan. It was too big to seem real. And jerseys everywhere. I got to my seat and couldn’t believe the view. It was just so gorgeous. The announcers had to make a show of broadcasting the temperature. We kept shrieking “no no no!” and then wailed when the official temperature of 12 degrees faherenheit was declared. It somehow made my ache more knowing just how cold it was. It was snowing and windy and I just wanted the puck to drop.

The first period crawled because every few minutes the ice needed shoveled and that took probably five or six minutes. I tried not to do the math to figure out how long the game was going to take at the rate of needed snow sweeping. I was in Red Wings territory. It was amazing how the stadium was spilt into the Leafs and Wings halves. I was a dot of blue in a bunch of red. I could have wept as I sang along to the Canadian anthem but my tears would have froze.

Moving became essential to surviving the game.  The breaks when the ice was cleaned was a time for a lot of us to stand up and move and try to get the feeling back in our toes. It didn’t matter I had on three pairs of pants, a thermal tank, base layer long sleeves, a hoodie, a winter parka and Lupul jersey, hockey socks, two pairs of gloves, a hat and a scarf. I froze. My hair actually had ice in it. The next morning I realized my eyelids had windburn. Not to mention just the ache of being cold and sitting in a blizzard for five hours.

I was elated the Leafs won. I wasn’t happy to see Jonathan Bernier in net. That start should have went to James Reimer. But my complicated feelings and venomous words on team management can be saved for another time. I saw James Van Reimsdyke and Joffrey Lupul score! It was something else being at the Big House. You can hear a puck ring the posts in a stadium with 110,00 screaming fans. The battling cries of Let’s Go Red Wings and Go Leafs Go. We huddled for warmth and we were so happy and content. I still don’t believe I was there. I still don’t believe it happened.

For me, that is probably the best hockey will get. It was such a gorgeous event. I basically sat in a snow globe and watched a puck travel around the ice. I felt like I could just absorb everyone’s light and happiness and I would be content forever. I would store in reserves and feel pleasant and warm.

What else is there to say? I’m not sure. I know once I hit publish I will think of a million other things. Mostly, the game was hockey how as it is to me. The incredible kindness and connections you find in strangers because you love the same sport. The things we could gush over and be happy about.

It was worth every dollar. And the years I waited. Thank you.

5 thoughts on “The Road to My Winter Classic.

  1. Nice article. I was at the Winter Classic in Philly and it was awesome. I really like your blog and am glad to see a fellow female hockey fan writing about the sport.

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