On Saturday afternoon a vertiable lineup of personalities, Hall of Famers and role players alike, suited up for the Maple Leafs-Red Wings alumni game at BMO Field a part of the Centennial Classic festivities.
The Leafs’ roster was comprised of five Hall of Famers: Lanny McDonald, Mike Gartner, Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour.
Detroit’s bench was seven Hall of Famers deep: Nicklas Lidstrom, Igor Larionov, Dino Ciccarelli, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey, and current Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.
Mike Palmateer made a sprawling save on Tomas Holmstrom on a penalty shot in the first period. Fans of a certain age will remember Palmateer’s similar acrobatics, in 1978, against the Islanders’ Billy Harris in sudden-death overtime, in the moments that preceded Lanny McDonald’s series-winning goal.
However, unlike that memorable outing 38 years ago, Palmateer left the alumni game immediately, understandably unwilling to risk a crippling injury.
The scoreless deadlock was broken in the second period when Lidstrom beat Curtis Joseph in the slot area. Moments later, the Red Wings extended their lead to 2-0 on a breakaway marker from The Proferssor, Larionov.
And, Shanahan couldn’t help but crack a smile, converting a cross-ice feed from Martin Lapointe to get the better of the team over which he now presides.
Toronto finally got on the board when Wendel Clark – obviously more revered for his legendary days in a Leafs uniform than for his 12-game tenure in Motown – potted his own rebound on a partial breakaway past Chris Osgood to break the shutout. The teams entered the dressing room with Detroit holding a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.
The third period opened with Darcy Tucker bringing his team to within a goal, getting the better of Manny Legace. Then, perhaps to even his own surprise, pugilist Tie Domi found his way onto the scoresheet, pouncing on a rebound to even the score.
With just under six minutes left in regulation, Gary Roberts and Kris Draper exchanged hostilities before cooler heads prevailed, proving that some players never lose their intensity, no matter how long they have been away from skating professionally.
Draper, a Scarborough native, got the last laugh, driving the net to score the game-winner with just 64 seconds remaining in the game.
The event was a nostalgic celebration of a historic rivalry.
Earlier in the day, the present-day Leafs held their final practice at BMO Field in advance of the much-anticipated New Year’s Day game. Leafs coach Mike Babcock – who is behind the bench for his third Winter Classic following a pair of such stints with Detroit (2009, 2014) said the game never loses its lustre. “Being around it, and having a celebration of the game makes it beyond special,” he said.