This year the NHL's Winter Classic makes its triumphant return to the New Year's Day sports schedule and as per usual, it's going to be a grand spectacle.
While past games have featured historic stadiums such as Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park, this year's setting is unique in a different way: it's massive. Michigan Stadium, appropriately nicknamed The Big House, has the capacity to host 110,000-plus fans to watch an NHL game with a little on-campus flair. Plus it has plenty of its own history like the aforementioned ballparks to speak of.
Grand setting and bone-chilling, memory-evoking conditions aside, the spectacle is nothing without the actual game and this year's matchup lives up to the billing of a Classic.
For just the second time in the still brief history of the NHL's premier regular-season game, this Winter Classic features two Original Six rivals, teams that have been around as long as the NHL has. The host Detroit Red Wings are back for their second Classic while long-time rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs not only make their Winter Classic debut, but make the first appearance by a Canadian team in what has essentially been an event made for American TV.
The two teams spent years in different conferences thanks to the NHL's excessive expansion, which necessitated a move of the Red Wings to the West, but now they've been reunited as division rivals and it feels so good. The rivalry received a little reinvigoration and as we all know that familiarity breeds contempt.
Being two Original Six squads, both franchises are steeped in history. By steeped I mean ridiculously deep in their franchise record books. Just consider that the NHL added a second game to this year's Alumni festivities to accommodate everybody that wants to wear the old colors in a game once more. That's telling in and of itself.
The two teams will battle it out on New Year's Day on the ice but that is just one footnote in their all-time battle. How do they stack up historically? Consider this the tale of the Winter Classic tape.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 13
The Maple Leafs racked up a lot of titles in the early days of the NHL but they've found the No. 13 to be quite unlikely indeed; they're stuck on it. As everybody across Canada knows, whether they're die-hard and tortured Leafs fans or a fan of another team that loves to revel in Toronto's misery, the Leafs haven't won a Cup since 1967. Heck, they haven't even returned to the Cup Final since then. That's an eternity.
Detroit Red Wings: 11
The Leafs have the edge on the total number but the Red Wings have been catching up over the years, especially in the last couple of decades. The Wings have won four Cups in the last 20 years and played for two others. Given that's a heck of a lot more recent than 1967 and today's game is a lot tougher than it was back then with more obstacles, we're going to give the edge to the Wings in an upset even though they have two fewer in franchise history. Maybe if Toronto had one Cup since the league expanded beyond six teams the number superiority would give them the edge.
Edge: Wings. Controversy!
Hall of Famers
Toronto Maple Leafs: 54
The Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Toronto and the local NHL team is more than well represented. Anybody who was anybody in a Leafs (and St. Patricks) sweater has a spot in the Hall. Perhaps guys who played in Toronto get more attention than they should for the HHOF but it's tough to argue this is a heck of a group.
Detroit Red Wings: 47
The Leafs might have the quantity edge here but the Red Wings probably have the quality. Between Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman and the plethora of greats in between, they have quite the cast. This time though we're going to stick with the quantity because some of those Toronto Hall of Famers actually have played since 1967.
All-time series record
Believe it or not, the all-time record is an even draw. The teams are 334-334-93 all-time against each other. At least in the regular season. The playoffs? Well there the all-time record is 59-58 in favor of the Red wings. So there you have it, the Wings have one more win all time in 878 contests. That's so close it might as well not even count.
Best previous nickname
Toronto Maple Leafs: The team in Toronto hasn't always had a grammatically incorrect nickname. Nope, at one point they were called the St. Patricks (or just St. Pats) and before that even they were the Toronto Arenas. They always have had something unique.
Detroit Red Wings: Like Toronto the Red Wings had not one but two previous nicknames. Before they became the Red Wings in 1932-33 they were the Falcons for two years and the Cougars before that. It wasn't until the Wings name came that Jack Adams led them to a Stanley Cup win.
Edge: Leafs. The names are different and not to mention they actually won some titles under those old names.
Toronto Maple Leafs: While the Leafs have scores upon scores of fans and are arguably the best bunch in the game, they and the franchise don't really have a signature tradition. Well, except for planning the parade through the streets of Toronto, a parade that's been in the works for decades now.
Detroit Red Wings: Perhaps no tradition in hockey is more unique than the habit in Detroit of throwing octopi on the ice. Sure, it's been curtailed today, sadly, but it's as cool if not a little disgusting of a tradition in all of sports. Octopi and the Red Wings have become synonymous.
Edge: Wings in a landslide.
There you have it, a 2-2-1 historical split here. I guess the game on New Year's Day will be a little more than a footnote, it has a tie to break.