Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy grew up a Red Wings fan from Chesterfield Township, Mich. He’s driven by Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor countless times but has never seen a football game there.
On Wednesday, the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will butt helmets in front of more than 105,000 fans at the Big House and millions more on national television in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
“It’ll be a great atmosphere, especially with two teams like Detroit and Toronto facing off,” Oleksy said. “The drive from Toronto is pretty close and the rivalry is there as well.
“Two original six teams. It’s definitely going to be a great crowd and a great venue to have it. It seats so many and that place will be buzzing for sure.”
According to NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins, a record 105,500 tickets have been sold for the event, which would make it the highest-attended event in NHL history. Collins said about 40,000 tickets have been sold to Maple Leafs fans, the most since more than 20,000 Capitals fans made the trek to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field for the 2011 Winter Classic.
“It’s a game you remember your whole life,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
Oleksy said he grew up watching “exciting guys” like Bob Probert and Joey Kocur but unlike many Red Wings fans he did not hold a grudge against the Leafs. In fact, Wendell Clark, Felix Potvin and Mats Sundin were three of his favorite players.
“I never hated any hockey team,” he said with a smile. “It all comes full circle and you never know.”
This time next year the Capitals will be chin high in the hype surrounding the 2015 Winter Classic, which is expected to take place between the Caps and Flyers in the cozier confines of the 41,400-seat Nationals Park.
“You think about it,” Oleksy said, “but the focus is on this season right now. I want to do what I can to establish myself here and see what next year holds for me.”
The forecast in Ann Arbor is for a high of 17 degrees and 2-4 inches of snow. The forecast in D.C. is for mostly sunny skies and temperatures peaking at 48 degrees at 1 p.m.