Toronto – It wasn’t the most exciting hockey through two periods, not close.
But the Centennial Classic ended up being one of the most exciting outdoor games the NHL has produced – Toronto defeated the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime after both teams exploded offensively in the third period – and everyone left with lasting memories.
“It was truly fun,” said veteran forward Steve Ott, who was playing in his first NHL outdoor game and talked all week about the excitement he felt. “The whole experience of the game was pretty exciting.”
Ott got the capacity crowd of 40,148 excited in the third period with a spirited fight against fellow Windsor native Matt Martin.
“Just two hometown guys from Windsor,” Ott said. “It’s pretty funny, we’re sitting here in Toronto.”
The start of the game delayed approximately 45 minutes because of the brightness of the sunshine on a bright, clear day.
But once the sun set, and darkness approached, the weather conditions, ice quality and quality of play were at an ideal level.
“Perfect,” goalie Jared Coreau said of the weather conditions. “Perfect as they can be. It couldn’t have been more perfect for an outdoor game. The temperature was great, there was no snow or rain. It wasn’t too cold. It was good.”
Still, the first 40 minutes of this game was tough to watch, with little offense and two cautious teams on the ice.
“The first two periods, it wasn’t the greatest hockey out there,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “Two teams that pretty much play similar hockey, not a lot of mistakes, not a lot of chances.
“In the end, though, it was a good show for the fans.”
Zetterberg isn’t surprised this game was similar to other outdoor games that have started slowly but usually end up with excitement.
“You don’t want to make any mistakes,” Zetterberg said. “You keep it simple and not a lot goes on. Teams wait for mistakes. Unfortunately they (the Maple Leafs) capitalized on ours.”
Toronto coach Mike Babcock was similarly excited about the entire Centennial Classic experience.
“Awesome,” Babcock said. “I hear all the time there’s too many outdoor games. Ask the players, they want to be in them. They love them. I’ve been in three. They’re one of the greatest gifts you can give your family.”
Anthony Mantha is on the best roll of his young career.
With Sunday's two goals and one assist, Mantha has nine points (five goals, four assists) in his last six games and has also scored five goals in his last five games.
Mantha scored the game-winner Thursday in overtime against Ottawa and scored the game-tying goal Sunday against the Maple Leafs with a second left.
Mantha is playing on a line with Tomas Tatar and Henrik Zetterberg and feels he’s gained confidence playing with the veterans.
“It all comes down to confidence,” Mantha said. “Zetterberg and Tatar are always talking to me on and off the ice to make smart plays. I’m just trying to calm my play down from a few weeks ago and it’s making me a better player.
“It comes down to confidence and comes down to having the coaches’ confidence. It just started to come in my head I do have that extra second to make a play.”
Playing with Zetterberg is having a positive effect on Mantha.
“He’s playing along side the captain, Henrik Zetterberg…and his leadership is obviously rubbing off on him,” Ott said. “He’s (Mantha) playing the best hockey of his young career.”
Count me in
Saturday’s Alumni Game was a success with highlights such as Kris Draper nearly coming to blows with Toronto’s Gary Roberts, Maple Leafs goalie Mike Palmateer making a diving stop on Tomas Holmstrom’s penalty shot, and Draper’s late winning goal.
The alumni games have been a fixture the last few seasons in these outdoor events with fans enjoying watching legends return to the ice.
Draper, whose task normally is to recruit fellow alumni to play, said it’s not difficult getting former Red Wings.
“We throw it out there and for the most part, as soon as they (the league) announces it, a lot of guys will call you and say they’re available,” Draper said. “It’s a lot of fun and a lot of these guys were around for the Stanley Cups (victories) and that’s what makes it so special.”