COMMENTARY | It happened a year later than it was supposed to, but the Winter Classic finally was played at Michigan Stadium in front of more than 105,000 people on Wednesday, January 1.
Fans couldn't have asked for a better day as the falling snow made it seem like a winter wonderland, which made you reminisce about the days you skated on a pond in subzero temperatures until you couldn't feel your toes.
Which is exactly the feeling I had when I finally left the stadium after the Detroit Red Wings fell 3-2 in a shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It felt like I was walking on stone bricks as my feet had little to no feeling in them.
Was it excruciating? Sure, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I wasn't going to let slip away. From the moment I stepped into Michigan Stadium, I couldn't help but see smiling faces everywhere. I've never been to a Super Bowl, but it felt like I was going to a game that had just as much on the line as a Super Bowl does.
Tailgaters outside the stadium having drinks and sharing stories, kids eating hot dogs as snowflakes fell on the bun, lines of people waiting for hot chocolate to combat the -1 degree temperatures, and some even crazy enough to order an ice cold beer.
It was an experience I'll never forget.
What surprised me the most was how well the Maple Leafs faithful traveled to see their favorite team. I expected maybe a 70/30 or 60/40 ratio of Red Wings to Maple Leafs fans. However, it was much closer to a 50/50 split, and there might have even been more Toronto fans.
The majority of Red Wings fans aligned the north side of the stadium, and the majority of Maple Leafs fans were on the south side. Rather than hearing mostly Red Wing chants, the crowds dueled with their respective chants.
"Let's go, Red Wings!" was immediately followed up with "Go, Leafs, Go!" with no pause in between chants. Despite being officially listed as a home game for the Red Wings and being played in the state of Michigan, it was more like a college bowl game at a neutral site.
Immediately after the game ended, I expected a ton of trash talking from the Maple Leaf fans who surrounded me, but instead I was told "good game" as we made our way toward the exits. It's uncommon to hear from the opposite side of a budding rivalry anything less than "you suck" or "(insert star player here) sucks," but I enjoyed the sportsmanship the other fans showed me whilst winning the biggest game of the 2013-14 season thus far.
The Winter Classic was seen as gimmicky when it was first played back in 2008, but it is anything but. It's a celebration of hockey and an homage to the roots of the greatest game.
If you're lucky enough to get one close to you, I suggest you go. It will be an unforgettable experience. You'll get to celebrate the sport you love with other passionate fans in an atmosphere unlike any other regular season game.
And, if you're lucky enough, you'll get the snowfall to add a touch of magic to a surreal experience.
Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who writes about the Detroit Red Wings for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He also co-hosts a Red Wings Podcast called The Octopod, and is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter.
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