Downtown Detroit is alive with the sounds and smells of outdoor hockey right now, as the city enters the fifth and final day of the Hockeytown Winter Festival.
And those festivities are just a prelude to the big event in Ann Arbor — the 6th annual NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day.
That outdoor game will feature two of the NHL’s Original Six teams, the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game alone is expected to draw well over 100,000 fans to the Big House.
But until Wednesday, the party for hockey fans from Detroit, Toronto and elsewhere is at the Winter Festival.
It’s pretty much every die-hard hockey fan’s dreamscape. You can skate outside, play pick-up hockey, tour replica locker rooms, and even catch a glimpse of the Stanley Cup.
The whole affair wraps up Tuesday, with two outdoor games featuring Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs alumni at Comerica Park. Former Detroit captains Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom are among the ex-Red Wings who will take the ice.
All the festivities — and the relatively short road trip -- have drawn a lot of Maple Leafs fans, like Andrew Morris, to southeast Michigan for a few days.
“A lot of Toronto is going to be there (the Winter Classic),” said Morris. “Basically, on the way down here it was just a caravan of blue-and-white flags and Leaf paraphernalia and all that.”
Tom Crites, a former Detroiter now living in Washington state, said he’d watch the Winter Classic from home. He enjoyed skating at the Winter Festival and poking around downtown Detroit Monday.
But he especially looked forward to returning for the alumni games on Tuesday. “These old-timer games…most of the hatchets are buried, the guys are laughing at each other, having fun and having one after the game together,” Crites said. “That’s what great about hockey.”