PHILADELPHIA - Two things came to mind when Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf learned officially that he would be playing in the 2013 Winter Classic with the Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings.
“One, the crowd, the amount of people that are going to be in the building will be very special,” Phaneuf said on Thursday after the Leafs’ morning skate for their game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Two, you are playing outdoors. I know being from Edmonton and growing up and having a rink in my backyard, playing with my buddies on that, and the community rink, playing a lot outdoors. You have those two aspects — the amount of people in the building and playing outdoors — and you put into it an Original Six matchup, it is an exciting thing to be a part of.”
The Leafs and Wings will play on Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan in a game that could draw in excess of 104,000 fans.
Of course, the idea that the Leafs would be part of an HBO 24/7 documentary would make the event that much more interesting. Those plans have not been finalized, but the documentary has become as much of the event as the game itself.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson has experienced something similar.
“We had it in Washington to a lesser degree,” Wilson said of his time coaching the Capitals. “We agreed to do all this stuff when we went to (Stanley Cup) final in 1998. Not as many cameras (that HBO brings), but we did pre-game talks with cameras in there. I have been through that before.
“I don’t care what anybody says. It does change what you are going to do and in my case for sure with two granddaughters, I am going to clean up my act. I would not want to embarrass myself in front of my granddaughters. They call up if they see me yelling at an official, so you always have to watch that.”
As for the game on Thursday night — it’s a bit strange the NHL announced the Winter Classic on a game day for the Leafs — Phaneuf knows the importance.
The Leafs, winners of five of their past seven, have 62 points and are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, five behind the Flyers.
James Reimer’s return to the net in place of Jonas Gustavsson after having the Winnipeg game off will represent Toronto’s only lineup change, while the Flyers will start Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, as Ilya Bryzgalov is sick.
The Flyers have lost a season-high three in a row.
“It’s a huge game for both of our teams,” Phaneuf said. “For us, this is a team we are trying to catch. They are ahead of us in the standings, we are coming into their building, they always play well at home, and it’s an energetic building.
“With the way the standings are, and the way that things are shaping up, the five-point gap for us to come in and win the game, cuts it down to three. So for us, it is a four-point game. It’s either going to be seven or cut down to three.
“We’re definitely trying to move up in the standings. Not just sitting in the hole. We want to move up.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he was not overly concerned with the potential damage Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel can make.
“Every team has great players and you just listed a couple for Toronto that are having great years,” Laviolette said. “I don’t think that will be any different than we faced (John) Tavares in the last game or (Marian) Gaborik in the next one. That’s the way it is.
“I don’t think that speed has been an issue for our team all year, so we should be able to skate with these guys. I don’t see a problem with that. Certainly we would like to see a breakout win at home.”