Leafs willing to mug for the cameras

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is excited about playing in next January's NHL Outdoor Classic. (QMI...

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is excited about playing in next January's NHL Outdoor Classic. (QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:55 PM ET

Two things came to mind when Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf learned officially that the Leafs would be playing in the 2013 Winter Classic 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.

“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 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 as many as 115,000 fans, which would be a record for a hockey game.

Of course, the idea that the Leafs would be part of an HBO 24/7-style documentary would make the event that much more interesting. Those plans have not been finalized, but the documentary (which could be filmed by another broadcaster) has become as much of the event as the game itself.

The idea that cameras would follow their every move, even, possibly, to their homes, does not faze the Leafs.

Colby Armstrong, whose sharp humour could make him an off-ice star of the documentary, was part of something similar when he played for Wilkes Barre/Scranton, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate.

“We did a chasing-the-dream thing when I was in the minors,” Armstrong said. “We had fun with it, and after a while, you don’t even notice (the cameras and their operators) are there.

“It might be a little weird to have them in your house, but I guess you have to see what they would want to do with certain guys.”

Armstrong and fellow Leaf Tim Connolly were opponents for the outdoor game in 2008, Armstrong with the Penguins and Connolly with the Buffalo Sabres, when the game was played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Before a crowd of more than 71,000, Armstrong scored the Penguins’ only goal and Connolly assisted on the Sabres’ lone goal in a 2-1 Pittsburgh shootout win.

“I thought that was a pretty unbelievable experience,” Armstrong said. “To see the amount of people that stadium (in Michigan) could hold is going to be really exciting. With our fans, I think everyone would enjoy it.”

As far as the almost-constant presence of TV cameras goes, Leafs coach Ron Wilson has experienced something similar. In 1998, during the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup run, cameras followed the team.

“I don’t care what anybody says,” Wilson, the coach of the Caps then, said. “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.”

Wilson didn’t watch much of the HBO 24/7 documentaries the past two years, but Phaneuf tuned in. Though the players would have been watching what, essentially, is their own lives but through different people, they found it fascinating.

“They do an unbelievable job of giving a real look at the inside of an NHL hockey team,” Phaneuf said. “I think it is a great show for (fans) to watch and see what we do on a daily basis behind closed doors. I don’t think (cameras) would be a distraction. From talking to guys on other teams, they are very professional, they are really good at what they do, and that’s why they put together programs like that.

“As players, we have talked about what an experience it would be to be a part of something like this. The focus is still on this year and the work we have to get done down the stretch, but the official announcement is very exciting.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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