ANN ARBOR, MI – Why anyone would wager on an outdoor hockey game played in front of 105,000 fans in a driving snow shower is beyond our comprehension. But if you dared to wager, then the safe bet is the road team.
They’ve won four of five Winter Classics, including the New York Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012. The Detroit Red Wings host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 1 at The Big House in Ann Arbor, attempting to join the Boston Bruins as Winter Classic home victors.
The conventional thinking, of course, is that the home team has many, many more distractions than the road team on the night before the game, a.k.a. New Year’s Eve -- friends, family and merriment beckon.
So people like Coach Mike Babcock have to be the party poopers.
“Let’s just go over what’s going to happen in my house,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at the University of Michigan.
“My wife’s maiden name is Dunham. And my kids will tell you that nobody parties like a Dunham. So you can just imagine my house tonight.
“That’s why, a couple blocks down the road, I got myself a hotel room. Because when 11 [o’clock] comes, they’re not going to care that the Winter Classic is tomorrow.
“So the home team has won one game. We’ve gone through this with our players. They know. They’re an opportunity in our schedule to have a heck of a New Year’s Eve party on New Year’s Day.
“You make the decision. But if you’re countin’ on your family to do it for you, I don’t like your chances.”
This is Babcock’s second Winter Classic, having coached the Wings against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009 Classic at Wrigley Field. It’s also the second one for Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who offered his own party advice four years ago: "They're going to do whatever they want for New Year's Eve, and then we'll hopefully go out and play a great game on Jan. 1," Holland said.