DETROIT -- The families of Red Wings forward Luke Glendening and defensemen Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser are counting down the hours before they're able to experience outdoor hockey once more.
Outdoor hockey is old hat to Glendening and his family because he played in three outdoor games during his college career at Michigan.
The Winter Classic, which pits the Red Wings against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, will be Smith's second outdoor hockey game and the third time he has played hockey in a football stadium.
It will be DeKeyser's first outdoor game. He would have played in the outdoor Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park last season for Western Michigan had the NHL lockout not caused the cancellation of the Winter Classic and Winter Festival games. As a result, the GLI was moved indoors to its usual home, Joe Louis Arena.
The Winter Classic was rescheduled for this year and DeKeyser, who went on to sign last season with the Wings as a free agent, will now get a chance to play at the Big House instead.
His family took advantage of the Wings' recent outside practice at Comerica Park, joining DeKeyser and some of the other Wings afterward for an informal skate.
The three families shared some memories about how they intertwined hockey with the holidays and carved out special memories watching their sons skate outdoors.
Bundle up, Smiths
Lester and Deidre Smith know to dress warmly for the Winter Classic. They endured a chilly outdoor atmosphere on Feb, 6, 2010, watching their son star in the Camp Randall Hockey Classic in Madison, Wis.
Brendan Smith scored two power-play goals in the last 6 minutes to help the Badgers beat Michigan, 3-2, in front of 55,031 in Camp Randall Stadium, the home of the Wisconsin football team.
"Whatever exposed skin you had was freezing," recalled Lester Smith. "It was really, really cold. In fact, my dad, Brendan's grandfather, spent most of the third period up in the foyer and only came down when he heard a rumor that Brendan had scored a goal."
The Smiths were also on hand to see their son play in the 2010 Frozen Four at Ford Field. The Badgers beat RIT, 8-1, in a semifinal before losing to Boston College, 5-0, in the championship game.
Lester Smith will make his second fathers' trip with the Wings this week before attending the Winter Classic.
The Smiths live in Mimico, Ontario, a former village in Toronto. With their hometown Leafs involved in the Winter Classic, this might prove to be the best of the Smiths' experiences in a football stadium.
The Smiths certainly have been hearing a lot more from friends and family as the media attention and hype build for the game.
"I'm looking forward to it," Lester Smith said. "The hype and the HBO stuff gets you all geared up. You hope the game is going to be equal to the buildup, like the Super Bowl.
"You're hoping (Pavel) Datsyuk does something nobody's ever seen before. Wouldn't that be fabulous?"
Lester Smith said more than a dozen family and friends will attend the game.
Most of the family is used to spending the holidays watching Brendan Smith play hockey. Lester Smith said most times during Brendan's youth they were able to stay close to home and play in tournaments near or around Toronto.
When Brendan Smith was 14, his grandmother, Lester's mother, died Dec. 26.
Lester recalled how Brendan was emotional during the memorial service when he went up to speak about his grandmother.
"I was really close with my grandma," Smith said. "I said a bunch of words and a little bit of a poem. It was hard to get through the poem and my grandfather came up and put his arm around me and helped me get through the speech. It's tough when you lose somebody, especially around Christmastime."
Lester Smith remembers how his son wanted to rejoin his team later that night to continue playing hockey and how the team went on to win its tournament.
One of the best memories Lester Smith experienced watching his son play hockey involved much warmer temperatures than what he'll expect next week.
He recalled going to San Jose on a moment's notice to catch his son's NHL debut during the 2011-12 season.
"We just jumped on a plane ... and we just could not believe it," Lester Smith said. "And they start him with (Nicklas) Lidstrom for the drop of the puck. We could not believe it. They put him on right away."
Glendenings make plans
The Glendenings planned to spend Christmas together in East Grand Rapids this year. They'll have the rest of the week to figure out just where they're going to see Luke Glendening play his next outdoor game.
Glendening's parents, Tom and Leslie, already bought tickets for the American Hockey League game at Comerica Park on Monday, which is part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival. That game pits the Grand Rapids Griffins against the Toronto Marlies.
They bought the tickets before the Wings recalled Luke Glendening due to a rash of injuries.
If Glendening remains with the Wings, his parents will have to scramble to try to get tickets for the Winter Classic.
Either way, Luke Glendening will play in his fourth outdoor hockey game.
It will be the third outdoor hockey game for his parents, who opted to stay home and watch on television rather than travel to the Camp Randall Hockey Classic on Feb. 6, 2010. (Brendan Smith's grandfather would call that a smart decision.)
They attended the Big Chill at the Big House on Dec. 11, 2010, and were part of the largest attended hockey game (113,411). Guinness World Records later certified the attendance as 104,173. The Wolverines beat the Spartans, 5-0.
They also attended the Frozen Diamond Faceoff at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The Wolverines beat Ohio State, 4-1.
"I think what made both games so near was the rivalries," Tom Glendening said. "The rivalries between State and Michigan and Ohio State and Michigan. That adds to the flavor."
The Glendenings said it was neat to see their son play on such big stages.
"That's just so him to be outdoors," Tom Glendening said of Luke. "It just brought back a lot of neat memories."
Tom Glendening said he tried to build a rink in the backyard a few times in East Grand Rapids for Luke and his brother Joe, who went on to play college football at Hillsdale.
"There's also Reeds Lake by our house, and the kids used to skate on that a fair amount," Tom said.
Leslie Glendening recalled one of Luke's Christmas wish lists from when he was 8 or 9 years old: "All he asked for was a bible, a fishing pole and a hockey stick. Bless his heart, those were his three favorite things."
Luke got everything he wished for that year.
His pro hockey career is more than his parents could have ever dreamed for.
The Glendenings are proud of how hard their son has worked to get where he is today. They say he had to work hard to earn every level he's reached.
"I think Luke is just somebody that works really hard, although I know a lot of guys work really hard," Tom said. "He loves to learn, so I think that helps him. He's a student of the game. I'm not saying other guys aren't similar in that way.
"Luke's got God-given ability. I believe everybody is made for a purpose, not that he's necessarily made to be a hockey player. I always encouraged him to just be the best at what he's doing. I believe God has a plan for his life, and I'm not sure how hockey works into that. But I just think he needed to be faithful to the gifts and abilities he's been given and see where it takes him."
DeKeysers take to ice
For rec league players who think it would be cool to get a chance to skate at Comerica Park, Mick DeKeyser was that guy.
Danny DeKeyser's father has played in adult leagues all his life. When he got a text on short notice that his family could come out and skate following the Wings' outdoor practice last week at Comerica Park, he wasn't going to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"Since I'm retired, I'm able to go and took advantage of it," Mick said. "Had a real great time."
Danny DeKeyser's girlfriend, sister and brother also joined his father on the ice at Comerica Park.
"First time I've skated in one of the ballpark venues," Mick said. "It was a lot of fun."
The DeKeysers thought they might have missed a great chance last year when the GLI was played at Joe Louis Arena instead of outdoors when the NHL lockout canceled the original Winter Classic plans and subsequent events scheduled for Comerica Park.
"You never know how things are going to go and the route that they're going to take," Mick DeKeyser said. "This is what happened. So now he gets to play outdoors, not for the GLI but for the Winter Classic. Pretty amazing."
Mick DeKeyser has played in adult hockey leagues for years and still plays pickup hockey.
"I've been playing it all my life," he said. "When Danny was getting older, I would have him come out to some of the skates we had and he would benefit from that.
"I still get on the ice, for what it's worth. I'm a little older now. You know how that works. Over the years I've played on some adult-league teams. Basically now it's just pickup hockey. I actually skate with Mickey Redmond. I try to skate two or three times a week."
The DeKeysers, from Clay Township, are busy trying to figure out all the details for the Winter Classic, including transportation and how many family members are going to travel there.
"Danny's from a pretty big family," his father said. "We're going to try to accommodate all that we can, whoever wants to go and whoever can go. Either way, I'm sure it's going to be fun."
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