Bill Rapai [set]
I went to the second (consolation) game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park. Michigan lost 3-0. Brian said I must write this up, which is just as well since I'm too depressed to write about the football team right now. So.
As a Detroiter (err…Metro-) I appreciate Mike Ilitch. He may be a king of the Sicilian Square people while I'm a firm Foldedsliceitarian, but he's the daddy who won't say no to a Brett Hull or a Prince Fielder even if he just got you a Robitaille/Cabrera. He also funds a third of Detroit charities, renovated FoxTown, and realized the United States needed a Canadian-like hockey development program 30 years before USA Hockey itself got serious about it.
For this, that, and the other thing, nobody in this town can begrudge him anything. Not for weirdly refusing to put Larry Aurie's number (6) in the rafters, or for putting Tiger Stadium in the ground, or for not paying his taxes, because Ilitch is the guy who bought the Dead Things, then stole the GM who built that Islanders dynasty, then drafted Yzerman, then began a postseason streak which has outlasted both of Michigan's.
So when they told him they wanted to have his Red Wings host the Winter Classic (and once the stakeholders could decide on which pizza to order)* nobody could begrudge Mike his demand that Detroit, as opposed to Ann Arbor, should play host city, and that his downtown, bank-monikered ballpark should get a carnival and an ice rink too.
When you got down there and saw the Hockey Hall of Fame tent in the middle of the stadium lot, you could be for this in a rah-rah-good-for-Detroit kind of way. But, like handing that long-term deal to Franzen instead of Hossa, Comerica Park as hockey rink was a contemporarily questionable decision which in hindsight appears to be an awful one.
* [My vote would have been Supino's**]
**[Yes, we are all about superfluous possessives in Detroit. What of it?]
The thing about outdoor hockey is it's supposed to call to mind "pure" hockey, i.e. the game you played with friends under a gunmetal sky after spending twice that long shoveling, until the half-frozen parent you left on the shore decided everybody's going to fall in/catch a cold. I realize not everyone knows what this experience is, and there are myriad social/cultural/class reasons why this is, including SE Michigan geography:
[Jump: CoPa makes for a bad hockey rink, Michigan makes like a bad hockey team, and a hockey stick serves as a passable bat]
To those from the blue-speckled areas, you know how different hockey sounds without walls. Those sounds, not the size of the crowd, are what captivate me whenever they announce another outdoor extravaganza. My favorite of these is still that first Winter Classic in Buffalo, not because it had throwback jerseys and Gary Bettman's version of LeBron in it, but because the snow pillowed the stadium sounds and made it seem like any moment Mrs. Crosby was going to walk out onto the ice and declare it's time for cocoa.
|As with most UM sporting events this year, the highlight was the (alumni pep) band. [Me]
Comerica Park was just an awful venue for this. For one the signature gentle slopes that make it such a pleasant garden-in-the-machine in summer meant nobody could sit within 100 yards of the action and still see over the boards. The decision to align the rink 1st to 3rd (instead of snug up one of the baselines) appeared to come from a "we're going to sell this place out" thought process. After just five minutes of watching torsos I gave up and watched on the scoreboard. Later we wandered to the upper deck, but there you couldn't even tell Michigan's players (wearing the blue-shoulder unis) from State's, and the distortion from the glass made seeing the puck impossible, so we went back to our seats behind 3rd base where at least we were close to the band.
Second, they plugged microphones into the boards and pumped the sounds of the game through the stadium loudspeakers. The same echo that makes "now batting (batting) for the Tigers (Tigers)…" so pleasing created a delay between sound and action. The result, when combined with watching on the big screen, was the sensation that you were watching a game on mute on TV while some other game took place in a rink behind you. The actual, torso-filled rink in your peripheral vision was eminently ignorable.
And the ads. Oh man, the ads. They played advertisements on the scoreboard during every break in the action and all through the period breaks, and the volume for those was triple what it was during the game. It meant you couldn't talk to the guy next to you without shouting, and even then it was nigh useless. I wanted to break something when they interrupted the band the umpteenth time with some jingle for a pill or car or whatever. There's like 500 people here—you get three times that many impressions if you punch yourself in the dong and put it on YouTube.
Ann Arbor probably has a right to be pissed. The rah-rah Detroit thing was great for the Superbowl, but for this it just seemed superfluous atop the city's usual Christmas/New Year's festivities and accompanying ice rink. The people who would have gone to the one went to this other. Seeing it, I have to agree with Bettman and the NHL guys who came in thinking Ann Arbor's campusmosphere would have been right-sized.
The Actual Playing of the Hockey
Sad Mac is sad. [Rapai]
Sucked. With Andrew Copp off at the World Juniors Championships—where he's leading Team USA to a 3-0 mark and persuading the German captain to break his back—Michigan looked, well, a lot like Michigan last season before they came up with Andrew Copp. The lifelessness was reflected in the shot totals (37-14 after two periods). Most of those by MSU were fling-it-at-Racine things during their four power plays. Michigan got none of those (and probably deserved two) until the outcome was decided and it was make-the-stats-plausible time. Or perhaps the ref just wanted to hear the Red Wings play-by-play man say the name "Mackenzie MacEacher" again. It is a wonderful name.
|Red on Friday night, photo by Bill Rapai.
I was thinking this when I realized we didn't do the (penalty box) cheer, and with the usher-to-fan ratio about 1-to-3 at that point I didn't think to start it.
Disclaimer: I don't know hockey as well as Brian, in fact until I literally ended up in charge of writing the book on these guys I couldn't name all of them. Also I was watching the whole game on the leftfield scoreboard, and that was filmed in pore-o'-vision. So I can't really offer much of an opinion on the play of Max Shuart or Alex Kile except that they played and I wasn't the only person who had to look them up on my phone to know this fact. I can tell you they probably weren't in position because nobody but Compher (who was sent home from the WJC with an injury) was ever in a spot to receive a potential assist, and they probably didn't backcheck, because nobody but Compher did. Boo was there a few times on offense; nothing came of it anyhow. Copp's presence was missed badly; Moffatt's absence was noticeable.
The defense was what the preview feared: Bennett out there doing the right things, and lots of inexperienced dudes doing inexperienced things. Michigan's big checky dudes (Clare, Downing, Serville) wandered to the boards to watch, and Chiasson wandered around the circles and sometimes waved his stick at things. De Jong was a scratch, because whenever I go to Comerica Park it's a Ramon Santiago day.
Racine started; the previous night's game was colder, lasted for three hours, and ended at 10:30 p.m., is my guess for why Nagelvoort didn't go. For his part Racine gave up a rusty soft goal at the beginning, an even softer one at the de facto end, and was otherwise very strong. The sandwich goal was given up with 7 seconds left in a ludicrous elbowing penalty to Downing. You can read all about it in MGoBlueline's Diary:
In what would become the theme of the weekend, it seemed like they’d make it through this trouble spot, things were fine, ok, OH COME ON ARE YOU SERIOUS. Michigan takes away the pass to the MSU player in the slot, but…
…that leaves Berry wide open on the other side of the ice. He shoots it over the glove of Racine and Michigan State’s lead is increased.
Berry then swung his stick like a baseball bat, because we're in a baseball stadium. This was pretty awesome, and made me hate Matt Berry for making me like him, and because that was just about the only fun thing to happen all afternoon.
On our way back to my brother's to watch the bowl game, we drove by Gilbert Lake, and there you could see some kids had cleared for themselves a rink of indiscriminate dimensions, and a bit of trodden ground upon the shore, where a parent had watched.