Sunday, January 01, 2017

Centennial Classic delivers a pond hockey finish at BMO field

New Years' Day brought the Centennial Classic to Toronto's BMO field

In the end, after sixty minutes of play and a last second tying goal from Detroit to push it to overtime, the rink on the wide expanse of BMO field resembled most what the NHL wants us to take from these stadium spectacles, the vision of hockey stoking memories of the game on a pond.

With the skies blue, the air crisp and the ice fast; if somewhat unpredictable, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs provided the visual centerpiece to launch the 100th centennial of the NHL for the over 40,000 in attendance just off the shores of Lake Ontario.

In fact, the skies were too bright as the scheduled start time beckoned, the sun shining from an angle that made for unsafe conditions that required a delay of thirty minutes before the teams could drop the puck.

When they did, the action at times did very much resemble that of an outdoor pond, shots fired down ice would take mysterious bounces, the players seemed to struggle at first to the outdoor conditions, taking a bit of time to make a sense of it all.

The first period, that of a scoreless tie was indicative of that tentative nature, though the Red Wings seemed to figure it out first, taking a 1-0  lead in the second, only to see the Leafs launch their comeback of four goals in the early stages of the final twenty minutes.

Such was the shift in momentum that up until the fourteen minute mark of the final period it appeared as though the home town side would be claiming a convincing victory in regulation time.

That was until the Red Wings took advantage of some Toronto miscues and put their game into another gear, scoring three goals in the final six minutes. The final marker, a frantic last second scramble in the Leafs end which delivered the tying goal by Anthony Mantha, who had already had a pretty impressive day and put the signature on his afternoon by sending the game into OT.

That perhaps might have been a cue for Leafs' fans of the past to sit in stunned disbelief as another victory suddenly slipped away from the win column, but perhaps 2017 may offer a different resolution after all when it comes to the Toronto squad.

For the hometown fans, the game could not have had a more storybook ending, the OT period offering up the opportunity for the highly acclaimed rookie Auston Matthews to tap in the winning goal, reinforcing for many the impact he has already had on the Leafs and providing a sense of what is to come.

Matthews rewarded the faith of head coach Mike Babcock who had been giving the rookie, and some of his young team mates, more and more responsibility as the game moved forward. Sending them over the boards for additional ice time in key situations and assigning defensive face off duties that indicate that the coach is allowing Matthews and the young up and comers the opportunity to grow into their roles with the Leafs.

On Sunday afternoon, on the first day of 2017 all of those decisions delivered much of what the Leafs fans and the NHL wanted to see, the young colts of the stable starting to show their stuff. While the marquee player for the team made the play that became the exclamation point for the event.

The final moments of the game, forgiving a shaky start and near disastrous late third meltdown to put an entertaining finish to the day of hockey.

The full Box Score and Game Notes can be reviewed here.

A glimpse into the work that goes into putting one of these outdoor showcase games on can be found from this Globe and Mail article, which highlights the achievement of the staff at BMO field who have had two of their busiest months just come to an end. Along with the Centennial Classic, the outdoor Toronto venue has played host to the CFL's Grey Cup Championship and the MLS Final.

Monday, if the weather Gods cooperate, the NHL is back to the outdoors as St. Louis takes its turn to host the Winter Classic, bringing the Blues and Black Hawks together in the shadow of St. Louis's famed Arch.

Rain in forecast for start of Winter Classic
Blackhawks prepared for potential rain delays in Monday's Winter classic

The Centennial Classic not only made for some entertaining hockey on the Toronto lakefront, but has also created an archive of notes on the game at 100, some of the reviews from a day at Toronto's urban pond can be found below, along with a few side items on the history of the game as well.

Globe and Mail

Leafs score OT winner to capture Centennial Classic
Maple Leafs stick to rebuilding plan after win over Detroit Red Wings

Toronto Star

Rookies write Leafs' Classic ending
Matthews sparks Maple Leafs' win in Centennial Classic OT thriller
Overtime in Centennial Classic? Naturally
Dave Keon honoured as an all-time NHL Great

Toronto Sun

Leafs snag OT win over Wings in Centennial Classic
Coreau thrilled to face off against 'world class' Matthews at Centennial Classic
NHL's most iconic living players show up for Centennial Classic
Leafs' Rielly pumped about team's direction after Centennial Classic

National Post

Auston Matthews rises to the moment with overtime winner for Maple Leafs in Centennial Classic
Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan starting to see 'promise' as young team creeps into playoff contention
Goals, heartbreak and a fractured skull: The Toronto Maple Leafs' greatest season was also their most remarkable

Detroit Free Press

Red Wings provide thrills for overtime game, but fall, 5-4 in OT
Red Wings' Anthony Mantha playing 'best hockey of young career'
Detroit Red Wings approach outdoor game with humour, hard work

Detroit News

Red Wings' flurry falls short in OT loss to Leafs
Centennial Classic a 'great gift' for Wings, Leafs
Outdoor games are old hat for Wings' Glendening

USA Today

Young Maple Leafs take step forward with thrilling Centennial Classic win
Matthews, Maple Leafs top Red Wings in Centennial Classic

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs win Centennial Classic
Auston Matthews makes memories at Centennial Classic
33 of 100 Greatest NHL Players revealed
NHL history comes full circle at Centennial Classic

The Hockey News -- Maple Leafs' Young Guns Save the Centennial Classic - and their own bacon
The Hockey News -- Centennial Classic Slips through Red Wings fingers. Is their season next?
The Hockey News -- NHL announces the first 33 players on list of 100 greatest of all time
Canada's History -- The Greatest Game

HockeyNation Headlines -- January 2017

Our archives of notes for January

January 13 -- Canadian hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser announces retirement
January 12 -- Listless Canadiens suffer a beating in Minnesota
January 11 -- Alex Ovechkin hits 1,000-point mark, plus one more, as Capitals beat Penguins
January 10 -- NHL announces All-Star Game Rosters, and there are a few snubs and surprises
January 9 -- Alex Ovechkin ties Maurice Richard's goal total in win over Canadiens
January 8 -- Ryan Hartman posts 1st career hat trick in unusual fashion as Hawks beat Predators
January 7 -- Laine hurt, Jets lose on disastrous day
January 6 -- Canucks 4, Flames 2: Beauty of a streak stretches to six by winning ugly
January 5 -- Terry the shootout hero again as U.S. tops Canada 5-4 in world junior final
January 4 -- Americans beat Russia in controversial shootout, reach WJC gold-medal game
January 3 -- 'One of the most emotional moments in my career,' Weber says
January 2 -- Canadian juniors make noise in crunch time
January 1-- Matthews sparks Maple Leafs' win in Centennial Classic OT thriller

Archive of 2016-17 season