Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf
When the 2013 Winter Classic was announced for Michigan Stadium, Toronto Maple Leafs fans learned that their team would partake in the tradition of outdoor hockey in front of the whole nation.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings were set to square off on January 1, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan in front of thousands of hockey fans.
Unfortunately, the 2012 NHL Lockout cancelled many regular-season games, one of which was the Winter Classic.
Maple Leafs fans haven't had much to cheer about in recent times, as the Maple Leafs have had on-ice struggles.
Thus, the Winter Classic became an important game for the city.
The Winter Classic meant a lot to Toronto, and there are five reasons the game's announcement brought excitement to Maple Leafs fans who have been looking for something to cheer about.
Toronto is one of the most lucrative franchises in the NHL. However, that doesn't mean the team is widely watched around the NHL.
Sure, the Leafs are featured in Canada, but in the United States they are rarely seen in most hockey-watching homes.
The Winter Classic is broadcast nationally on NBC and thus is seen across the United States. Leafs fans would have been proud to see their team play in a high-profile game among a wide audience.
Winter Classic games have garnered high ratings in the past. The 2011 installment of the game that was played at Heinz Field between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins was the most-watched regular-season game since 1975, scoring a 2.3 rating for 4.5 million viewers.
Being in a game like this reignites excitement among fans all across the NHL, and more specifically fans of the teams involved.
Recently, Maple Leafs fans haven't had many games with that "big game" feeling, as they haven't qualified for the playoffs in nearly ten years.
However, a game such as the Winter Classic is an important one that fans from Toronto would have surely made the trip to attend.
A mere four-hour drive from Toronto, Ontario to Ann Arbor, Michigan, Maple Leafs fans were excited about gathering with friends and family to travel to Michigan Stadium for a day or weekend of tailgating and attending an outdoor hockey game.
There is no question that hockey is the biggest sport in Canada, and nothing could be better for Toronto fans than their team playing in an outdoor game in front of a massive crowd.
As previously mentioned, the Maple Leafs haven't had much on-ice success in recent seasons.
The last time Toronto qualified for the playoffs was the 2003-04 season, right before the 2004 season-long lockout.
Last season, they finished with a 35-37-10 record to place 13th in the Eastern Conference. The disappointing season forced the Maple Leafs to make a coaching change, when Randy Carlyle replaced the fired Ron Wilson in March.
There is no doubt that Leafs fans have been yearning for the team to get back to winning ways, and while they have been struggling, the team has talent and pieces in place to get back to playoff contention almost immediately.
The Winter Classic would have been that game that ignited the Leafs to get back to playoff form, playing against the always-competitive Detroit Red Wings.
Defeating the Wings in front of their hometown crowd in a big game held in a massive stadium could be no better way for the Leafs to get motivated to play well.
Playing 95 seasons in the NHL and having 13 Stanley Cups under their belt, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a rich and storied history in the league.
The Leafs are also a part of what is called the Original Six, the first six teams to play in the NHL.
The Winter Classic game, which has become an annual game in the NHL regular season, was introduced in 2008, so the game is still in its infancy.
However, the game has already established a sense of nostalgia and tradition, and teams that participate in the game are forever etched in NHL history.
This game would have been another piece in Maple Leafs history and would have given Leafs fans something to be proud of, even more so if the Leafs would have defeated the Wings .
In hockey, tradition and history are celebrated among fans and commentators, and the Winter Classic game is surely going to become a sacred game that players, experts and fans will consider just as important as the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The fact that the Leafs haven't been in the playoffs in almost ten years has Leafs fans agitated and extremely anxious for the Leafs to win a big game.
Even though the 2011-12 Leafs won over 30 games, those games essentially meant nothing, due to the fact that it didn't turn into a playoff berth.
Suffice to say, without playoff games to play and regular-season wins that haven't translated to playoff berths, the Leafs haven't won a meaningful game in quite some time.
The Winter Classic was Toronto's first chance in a long time to play a big game that, with a win, would give Leafs fans something to be proud of and talk about.
While not a playoff game, the Winter Classic has grown into a game that has a playoff atmosphere, with millions of fans tuning in to watch the action unfold.
A Leafs win would have infused the Leafs' fanbase, who have grown tired and weary of the franchise's recent woes.
Unfortunately, the 2013 Winter Classic fell victim to the NHL Lockout. Hockey fans are hoping the lockout ends soon so the NHL can resume play, while Leafs fans are hoping their team can get the chance to play in the 2013 Winter Classic game.