January 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Winter Classic cold presents a challenge to spectators

Reed Haley, left, and his parents Eve and Wally Haley watch player introductions at the Alumni Showdown on Tuesday at Comerica Park in Detroit. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)

Detroit — Marie Olivia pumped a fist in the air and danced in her seat after the Toronto Maple Leafs tied the score at 5 in the second Winter Classic Alumni Showdown game Tuesday against the Red Wings.

She came ready for the winter blast that made the game unbearable for some. She wore four layers of clothes, two pairs of leggings, and handwarmers were stuffed into both sides of her boots.

“It is cold but I came well-prepared,” she said.

But Olivia said she could not wait to get inside her warm car for the drive back to London, Ontario, with her friends Andrew Phin and Aaron Barran. She said she enjoyed herself although the Red Wings won, 6-5, in a shootout.

Olivia lasted through both games. Others did not. By the end of the game more than half the crowd had left as temperatures dipped to below 20 degrees, with a wind-chill factor of 7.

It felt more like 6 below in the stands according to my hands and feet after. I am still numb as I write this. The Classic is wonderful and colorful and a great spectacle. But it is not for me. The cold turned it into a bummer.

If you are going to the Winter Classic today at Michigan Stadium, be careful. It is cold outside and wind chills will make it seem like 7 degrees for spectators. The NHL said at least 105,000 tickets were sold. If they all show up it will break the record for highest-attended hockey game.

Here is what I also know. Most people will show up and watch. They might not stay for the entire game. They are hockey fans and many are hardy Canadians. They are here to enjoy the roots of hockey.

In layers

The first hockey games were not played in cozy arenas. They were played in places like Great Bear Lake, the St. Lawrence River in Montreal and Chippewa Lake near the Niagara River. These places get cold, just like Detroit.

The game-time temperature Tuesday was 20 degrees. By the time the sun went down it was 14 degrees and declining. I went outside for a spell and it felt colder than that. I saw some strange clothing. One guy wore fur pants. A woman wore a strange rubber mask over her face that made her look like the granddaughter of Hannibal Lecter.

People stuffed large overcoats and snow pants under team jerseys, making them look like giant penguins.

One young lady was really in trouble. She was wrapped in a red sleeping bag by her mother and sister. She shivered and was in pain while waiting to get into one of the gift shops. Most did not go in to buy Winter Classic gear. They went in to warm up.

It was the same in the crowded beer hall.

“Are you standing in line for a beer?” one man asked another.

“No. I am just staying out of the cold,” he replied.

I saw a woman inside the Hockey Hall of Fame tent who was having her feet rubbed. She wore a Maple Leafs jersey, black leggings and black boots. Friends stuffed her feet with handwarmers. She went back into the cold but returned later for more warmth.


Sam Power of Toronto wore a Red Wings jersey and hopped from side to side as he watched the final minutes of the game. He got to Comerica Park at 11:30 and watched both games.

“At times it was a little tough,” he said. “The toes get a little numb, but I am from Toronto so this is routine.”

What was the key to staying warm?

“You gather a few friends around and you drink,” Power said.

What would he do to warm up afterward?

“Drink,” he said laughing.

“Wasn’t that a blast?” a smiling Dino Ciccarelli said inside the Tigers clubhouse after the game.

That’s easy for him to say. At least he was moving around.


More Terry Foster