Next to a playoff game, there's no other game NHLers are vying more to be in than a Winter Classic. Veteran Detroit winger Daniel Aldredsson was a question mark to play after tweaking his back earlier in the week. But he wasn't going to miss this for the world.
"I know yesterday coming here for practice, coming out on the ice for a few minutes and taking the team picture, taking a few laps, I was telling myself, 'I got to find a way to get into the lineup tomorrow,'" Alfredsson said. "I thought it was really cool out there today. It was really special."
There's was a sense of total elation, especially in the winning locker-room, as you might imagine, especially given how Toronto, just like Detroit, has had a roller-coaster season.
"When you have an opportunity to play in a game like this, it makes it that much sweeter when you win it," Phaneuf said. "It couldn't have been any better of script, it goes right to a shootout with the snow falling all day. It was just a great experience all around."
And while the memories might be sweeter for the Leafs because of the extra point earned in the shootout, there were few long faces in the Wings locker-room. No question, points are valuable these days for Detroit in a season that's been a tough grind, but the moment at hand can't be lost, either.
"You had to [look around]," said Detroit forward Justin Abdelaker, whose third-period goal forced extra time. "This is a game where obviously you're going to play hard, but at the same time you have to enjoy it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal here with 105,000 fans. It was just packed. Toronto had good support. We had good support. It was a great experience overall."
Perhaps there were indeed two winners who left the ice on this day. The Wings peppered the Leafs with 43 shots and can't leave here thinking for a second they left themselves short in effort.
"I never talk to my team after we lose. Ever," Babcock said. "I did today. I just said, 'You should be proud. You've got an off day tomorrow. Enjoy your family. And I asked you not to get carried away last night, so here's an opportunity to. Be thankful for the experience. Remember the experience.'
"I think it's so important," Babcock added. "I said it yesterday. Life's about moments. You only remember moments. You don't remember everything. This is one of those things. And for today, for those kids that were skating on the ice, the kids that were introduced, the Olympians, all those things were very special."
So special, I'd argue, that I wish this was the only outdoor game on the NHL calendar. No question there will be some memorable moments in New York, L.A., Chicago and Vancouver in the season's other outdoor games, but it's the cold, hard truth that there's a chance the league has overplayed its hand by holding six outdoor games this season. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. If there's any hope it's that despite the money-maker these games are both for owners and the players in a pot they share 50-50, that there's also a realization that days like this in Ann Arbor should stand alone and not have to share the spotlight in the same season.
And perhaps, it will anyway -- stand alone, that is. Because regardless of what happens in the five other outdoor games this season, there won't be anything that will match a record crowd of 105,491, nor the dueling, historical significance of having a pair of Original Six franchises bringing two countries together on one sheet of ice.
Simply put, it was the best Winter Classic yet.