Each morning of the trip has begun with turning the television on the the NHL Network and watching World Juniors. It has pretty much become a daily tradition and one that I have come to really appreciate. If there was ever a doubt as to what this trip was about, that pretty much seals it. Hockey.
The next two days of games at Comerica Park were interesting to say the least. Before venturing to the park, we decided to take in some lunch in Detroit’s Greektown at New Parthenon, my favorite restaurant in that part of the city. My favorite part of eating at a Greek restaurant is ordering Saganaki (pan-seared Greek cheese). Why is it my favorite part? This is why:
After enjoying some a gyro platter, I absolutely had to visit Astoria Bakery. Astoria is right next to New Parthenon and is the mecca of any bakery fan. Just look at this variety (just a brief glimpse):
Next up was what I consider to be the best way to get a quick tour of Detroit, the People Mover. The People Mover is an above-ground tram that takes riders all over the downtown area and includes wonderful views of the city’s architecture, parks and riverfront with views of Windsor, Canada. I also met this guy (right)…yes, he’s just a statue, but the newspaper has real stories from the 1980s!
We get back to the Hockeytown Winter Festival only to find out that the last games of the Great Lakes Invitational were delayed due to weather. Originally scheduled for 3:30pm EST, they would now start an hour later. The sun was shining so brightly that day, that they had to cover the logos on ice and add snow just to keep up the ice conditions. It was extremely important for the delay to take place for the safety of the players and officials.
The consolation game of the 49th Annual Great Lakes Invitational featured a match-up between in-state rivals Michigan and Michigan State. The game was completely dominated by Michigan State in every aspect. Michigan took too many penalties and could not create any momentum. Leading 2-0 with less than six minutes remaining in regulation, Michigan State scored to put the final dagger in Michigan, making it 3-0. The Spartans outshot the Wolverines 40-28, but the game wasn’t even that close. The post game press conference for Michigan featured New York Rangers 2012 draft pick “Boo” Nieves. Michigan State’s victory press conference features Matt Berry and goaltender Jake Hildebrand.
It was a defensive battle for the championship of the GLI between Michigan Tech and Western Michigan. During the second period, Western Michigan picked up the physicality as they laid out multiple big hits and tried to get under Michigan Tech’s skin. The game continued on without either team scoring, going to overtime with each team scoreless. Just 2:01 into the overtime period, Western Michigan’s Justin Kovacs picked up a rebound and shot it past Michigan Tech goaltender Phoenix Copley. It was a true goaltending duel as Copley faced 30 shots and WMU’s Lukas Hafner stopped 33. This was the first Great Lakes Invitational title for Western Michigan since 1986. Western Michigan’s head coach, Andy Murray joked that the last time they won the title, they weren’t invited back for close to 30 years. Following the game, we spoke with Colton Hargrove, a 2012 pick of the Boston Bruins. Comments from head coach Andy Murray, Justin Kovas and Lukas Hafner can be seen in the post-game press conference. The Michigan Tech post game press conference features head coach Mel Pearson, Phoenix Copley and Alex Petan.
Sunday started off as a fairly warm day, but the warm weather quickly deteriorated. What began as a sunny day resulting in a two-hour delay to the start of the first outdoor games in Ontario Hockey League history, quickly turned into freezing rain and a wind chill in the teens.
The first game of the doubleheader pit the Windsor Spitfires against the Saginaw Spirit. Although it was meant to be a home game for the Spirit, the crowd easily favored the Spitfires as Windsor is located just across the river from Detroit. It didn’t take long for two players to drop the gloves to become the first fight in OHL outdoor hockey history. Codey Payne of the Spirit and Ty Bilcke of the Spitfires had a heavy bout near center ice that brought the announced crowd of 26,384 to their feet. It was a very exciting game, full or scoring and special teams, including four unanswered goals from the Spitfires to stage a comeback from a two-goal deficit. The game was tied at five until 14:37 of the third when Steven Janes scored a beautiful goal off a spin-o-rama from the baseline to give Windsor the win, 6-5.
Following the game, we were able to get video of some players and the Spitfires head coach that we were able to interview last year during our OHL mega trip: Brady Vail (Montreal Canadians), Josh Ho-Sang (ranked in the ISS Top 30 for the 2014 NHL Draft) and Bob Boughner (head coach and former Nashville Predator).
The second game of the doubleheader was quite a different atmosphere. As soon as the first game ended, light rain began to fall and the outside temperature read 34 degrees Fahrenheit and continued to drop. The rain that was falling began to freeze on the seats at Comerica Park, the wind switched north and the wind chill dropped.
It was a complete change in the game for the second in the doubleheader. Compared to the offensive juggernaut of game one, game two was a defensive battle that included one goaltender standing on his head. The first goals of the game between the London Knights and Plymouth Whalers didn’t occur until the third period when Mathieu Henderson scored early at 1:28. It took the Knights 16 minutes to tie the game. During a power play, Chris Tierney (San Jose Sharks), tipped the puck in, which send the game to overtime. Without either team able to convert in overtime, the game was finally decided after four rounds in the shootout, with Plymouth coming away with the victory 2-1. The biggest reason Plymouth was able to pull out this victory was due to the play of goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who stopped 44 of 45 shots.
After the game, we caught up with some top NHL prospects, including Plymouth’s Victor Crus Rydberg, a 2013 pick of the New York Islanders. As seen in a previous post, we also have video from first round draft picks, Max Domi (Phoenix) and Michael McCarron (Montreal).
When I left Comerica Park Sunday night, the temperature was 22 degrees with a wind chill near 11. Granted, this isn’t as cold as many parts of the country, but it’s certainly a bitter cold when the wind picks up. After six games at Comerica Park, there are only three more to go there until the Winter Classic at the Big House. Up next, the Toronto Marlies visit to take on the Grand Rapids Griffins. Then, a Maple Leafs vs Red Wings Alumni doubleheader. Each day, the games get bigger. Each day the temperature drops. I have one wish for Mother Nature for the Winter Classic: please let it snow!