Light snow swirled down in the Big House, making it tough to push the puck through piles of the white stuff on a sheet of ice where football is usually played.
Teeth-chattering temperatures and a brisk wind were factors, too, that made the NHL’s Winter Classic much more of an event than a game.
Tyler Bozak scored the winning shootout goal and Jonathan Bernier made two saves in the heart-pounding final moments, lifting Toronto to a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Wednesday in front of 105,591 fans — the largest crowd to watch a hockey game.
“I was just lucky to get a stick on it and keep it low enough,” Bozak acknowledged.
The Red Wings were not as fortunate in the closely contested spectacle that was altered in a lot of ways because of the conditions.
Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg appeared to have good chance in overtime with the puck in the Maple Leafs’ end and defenseman Cody Franson on his left side. The horn, however, sounded to stop play at the 2:30 mark of the extra period so that both teams played into a 10-plus mph wind for an equal amount of time.
“I think I would have had a clear breakaway,” Zetterberg said.
The game also was halted midway through the third period so that the teams could switch sides. In the shootout, skaters for both teams attempted shots with the wind in their face toward the same net — or end zone.
After a slew of skaters with shovels cleared the ice following overtime, Pavel Datsyuk scored Detroit’s only goal in the shootout and teammate Tomas Tatar was foiled on his team’s third and final attempt because he couldn’t control the puck on the snow-covered surface and didn’t even get a shot off.
“The conditions made it so some of the skill in the game was eliminated,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Bernier, with a knit hat over his helmet, made 41 saves — the most in an outdoor regular-season game.
The crowd surpassed the 104,173 who saw Michigan and Michigan State skate in the same football stadium known as the Big House in 2010.
The game-time temperature was 13 degrees with a wind chill of zero and steady snow that didn’t stop on a windy afternoon.
At the previous five Winter Classics, the average temperature was 39 degrees and the average attendance was 53,045.
This one was bigger, colder and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman loved every minute of it.
“This has been a terrific day, terrific way to start the new year and a terrific way to embark upon the part of the season that’s going to see five more outdoor games at the Olympic break,” Bettman said. “We couldn’t be any more pleased with the way things went.”
The struggling yet storied franchises did their best to put on show in the snow.
“I don’t know if you would call it a gem from a pace standpoint,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “There was a lot of snow and a lot of things to deal with.”
Joffrey Lupul, who might face discipline from the NHL for a cross-check that knocked Patrick Eaves out of the game in the first period, scored the first of two goals for the Maple Leafs in the shootout.
Jimmy Howard had 24 saves for Detroit. After leaving the ice and the snow-covered football field, he returned minutes later when he was introduced as one of the members of the U.S. Olympic team that will go for gold next month in Sochi.
Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader tied it 2 with 5:32 left in regulation after Bozak scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period. Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring for the Red Wings at 13:14 of the second and James van Riemsdyk tied in on a power play with 37 seconds left in the period.
And in the end, the Maple Leafs moved a point ahead of the Red Wings in the Atlantic Division toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with about half of the regular season remaining.
“The points were really big for us,” Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said.