Leafs prove adept at upstaging the Classic

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It’s not good enough, apparently, for the Toronto Maple Leafs to play in a Winter Classic, they also feel the need to upstage it with news. Twice.

A day after announcing the seven-year, $49 million contract extension of captain Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs pulled off a trade before the New Year’s Day game, acquiring veteran blueliner Tim Gleason from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman John-Michael Liles and prospect Dennis Robertson.

The Leafs and the Hurricanes, it’s believed, have touched based several times over the past month or so regarding Gleason, and I suspect Carolina would have loved to have gotten Jake Gardiner, but the Leafs were certainly never going to do that for Gleason.

So the deal in the end saw Liles, who barely dressed this year for the Leafs, go to Carolina where perhaps he can restart his career as a solid puck-mover.

The same goes for Gleason, who needs to refresh his career as a solid, physical D-man. And Leafs GM Dave Nonis believes a change of scenery will help that.

"Everyone you talk to in terms of his character, how hard he works, the type of team guy he is, I think he’s going to fit in well," Nonis said after Toronto’s Winter Classic victory over Detroit.

Clearly the key for Toronto getting a Gleason deal done was having Carolina willing to take on Liles.

"We basically swapped contracts, which is hard to do these days, but the cap hit is almost identical and that was a big part of it," Nonis said. "And Tim wanted to stay in the East, that was a factor as well.

"But the ability to move contract for contract, once that was an option, it happened pretty quick."

Season changer?

People have argued that winning a Winter Classic can be a momentous game-changer in a season, although not sure that’s reality.

And certainly for Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul, he wasn’t ready to make the victory into a season turning point, but rather embrace it for what it is.

"I think for the most part it’s just a moment to cherish," said Lupul, who scored in the shootout. "This is a lot different hockey game than you’re used to playing in the regular NHL arena. This is one you just enjoy. I don’t know if they’ll be showing much video or teaching points out of this game, some points you couldn’t even push the puck down the ice. It’s just a moment to enjoy. And we’re certainly going to do it."

Alfie, Alfie, Alfie

Imagine the consternation of Leaf fans when Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring for Detroit.

The former Ottawa Senators captain is still booed in Toronto whenever he touches the puck, Leaf fans still harboring ill feelings for him dating back to those Battle of Ontario days.

So yeah, there was a bit of a chuckle from Alfredsson when we asked him after the game about scoring in the Winter Classic versus the Leafs, giving him 34 career goals in 82 games against Toronto. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Alfredsson leads all active NHL players in career goals scored against Toronto

"It’s kind of neat, I guess," he said. "But in this stadium, their fans were so passionate and our fans as well, it was a great mix. In a big game, you want to get on the scoresheet somehow. I was fortunate today with a pass that went off my skate, but I’ll definitely take it."

The source of Toronto’s dislike of Alfredsson stems from the Battle of Ontario during the 41-year-old’s time in Ottawa. In Game 5 of the 2002 conference finals, Alfredsson hit Darcy Tucker in what Toronto called a hit-from-behind and then scored the game-winning goal seconds later.

Then in 2004, Alfredsson mocked the suspension of Mats Sundin by pretending to toss his broken stick into the stands, as Sundin had been suspended for one game earlier.

Filling the seats

Off the ice, the big question at the Big House was, what was the attendance?

The announced crowd was 105,491, easily breaking the NHL single-game mark of 71,217 set on Jan. 1, 2008, at the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

This should also surpass the world record for highest attendance for a hockey game. Guinness World Records officials -- who were at the game -- have to verify that this game topped the current mark of 104,173, which was set at the Michigan State-Michigan Big Chill at the Big House in 2010.

Even without counting every head, you know that a lot of people endured a very cold day.

The temperature was 13 degrees (minus-11 degrees Celsius for Leafs fans) at the start of the game, and snow fell the entire day.

This was easily the coldest Winter Classic of the six games. The temperature in previous games ranged from 32 to 51 degrees. Although it was nothing compared to the minus-2 degrees in Edmonton for the 2003 Heritage Classic.

Mr. Winter Classic

It was a big day for James van Riemsdyk.

The Leafs forward had a goal in the game and was named to the U.S. men’s Olympic roster for Sochi.

But the actual game was nothing new for him. Van Riemsdyk was playing in his third Winter Classic. He played in 2010 and 2012 with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Ty Conklin is the only other player to appear in three outdoor NHL games: the 2003 Heritage Classic and the 2008 and 2009 Winter Classics.

Star for Bernier

Jonathan Bernier waited until after his coach left the room to confirm to the press on Tuesday that he would get the start for the Maple Leafs.

But the goaltender wasted no time showing he deserved to start on Wednesday.

Bernier set a Winter Classic record by making 41 saves in the game. He also stopped Daniel Alfredsson and Tomas Tatar in the shootout.

Bernier has been sharing time in net with James Reimer, but appears to be pulling ahead in the race.

“We look at it and say that Jonathan Bernier has come in and given us a chance and given us an opportunity in games, and that's what we are looking for,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said after the game. “And we feel James Reimer has done the same.

“Right now, Johnny is on a little bit of a run, and as long as he continues to provide us with the level of goaltending he has, it would be foolish for us to look another direction.”