Sunday, January 01, 2017

Toronto Hosts Centennial Classic in Memorable Style

The NHL really knows how to make a big production of a big event and there is nothing bigger than the Outdoor game kicking off the NHL's 100th anniversary season. Of course, the league put the game on in "hockey's Vatican" believing it to be the most traditional site for a game like this to celebrate the history of the league. Starting off on a delay, the league post-poned the time so that the sun wasn't glaring on the ice. From the start, it looked like a great day for a hockey game like this one. It wasn't snowing or it didn't have sub-zero temperatures, but the game was ideal for vision and television cameras.

But once the introductions and pre-game festivities got underway, I got a little bored as the player introductions to the top 100 players of all time lagged on and on and on. Yes, every single player represented by their family member deserved their moment, after a while the need to get the game underway was palpable not only in my living room, but hopefully on the stadium. Then, the Anthems were sung with a total opposite production. The Star Spangled banner was loud and drawn out which makes a lot of Americans cringe. Anthem singers are supposed to be required to sing the song respectfully and not give their own stylistic interpretation. The Canadian anthem was the opposite who sung in a low subdued key. The fly-by of the jet was cool to look at as it soared through the city.

Then there was Wayne. Gretzky had just been in St. Louis for a hockey alumni game and now going through all the ordeals with the press and photo-ops in Toronto today. I wondered what time did he get to rest? Amazing at how much he just does what he's asked to do and no complaints later. By then, the Leafs and Wings were being brought out from the locker rooms. Breaking from the tradition of outdoor games bringing the teams to the rink, instead, they came out to theme music one at a time. With me in my old KOHO TML jersey, I saw how amazing the new Leafs centennial alternates look like in action. I think I want one now. Beauts! Both teams look impeccable with their jerseys this afternoon. And lets also give a lot of credit to the host BMO field, the now multi-purpose soccer pitch that looks majestic leaving nothing in the States to compare it to. This is what a stadium should look like. the 100 mold on the field was also a very nice touch.

The first period ended in a 0-0 snorefest, but there was some great quality chances interspersed with video highlight packages. Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Matthews were also in the crowd to talk about their son Auston.

In the first intermission we get treated to some Bryan Adams playing his hits and the audience singing along to Summer of 69.

The second period the NBC crew doubles down on trying to identify players for fans to keep an eye on. I can tell they want MI favored son Dylan Larkin to become a future leader on the Wings. But it was legacy NHL player Anthony Mantha to get the Wings on the scoreboard first. The other notable things from this period was the momentum swinging too-many-men penalty that the Leafs took while they were supposed to be on the PP. It's the kind of mental mistakes that wreck a growing team like the Leafs. And there was also the brief interview taken by a young leafs fan with a Matthews jersey. He looked really awkward standing in Jeremy Roenick's shadow.

More Matthews and Larkin profiles.

The third period started off with a rush of blue jerseys and "Uncle Leo" Komarov picking up a goal standing right in front of the net. But that wasn't the only thing that riled up the Leafs in front of their host crowd in the Stadium - a Matt Martin vs Steve Ott heavyweight bout put some energy into the game that has been mostly a defensive grinding affair. This turned into a Leafs scoring blitz by Brown, Matthews and Marner until a Jonathan Ericsson goal made things a little more interesting with 5 minutes left in the game. It's certainly turning into a Classic game to remember with the Toronto crowd getting their money's worth. Then Larkin, the kid the've been hyping the whole game, makes a great little flip over Andersen's right shoulder to bring it within one goal. 4-3 Leafs.

With the goalie pulled and prior to no time remaining on the clock, the Red Wings find the puck and shovel it in through a pile of bodies taking up the crease. And after a lengthy review, the game went to OT.

The overtime flow of a 3-on-3 game brought scoring chances to both teams, but it was Auston Matthews backhanding the puck over the Detroit goalie's shoulder.

As the game came to a close, I am at a loss for any answer that could suggest a game better than the one I just saw. The game turned out to be all it was hyped to be and leaves a follow up classic in St. Louis to try and match the same kind of drama and entertainment.

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