SBD/January 3, 2011/Events and Attractions

NHL Winter Classic Plays On Through Rain, Worsening Ice Surface

Winter Classic Opened With Olympics-Like Opening Ceremony, Fireworks, 20-Foot Flames

The Capitals-Penguins Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, "forced under the lights for the first time because of earlier rain, made the very most of the Heinz Field stage on a soggy Saturday," according to Dejan Kovacevic of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. There was "an Olympics-like opening ceremony, fireworks shot off the stadium rooftops, some 20-foot-tall flames flanking the parade of players, a deafening-at-times din from the crowd of 68,111 [and] a dazzling if eclectic array of Terrible Towels waving over tassle caps." The opening faceoff was moved from 1:00pm ET to 8:00pm due to weather concerns, but "all concerned seemed to agree that the move to prime time ... paid off in ways that might prove more memorable than the outcome." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: "It was a tremendous game, and the scene was spectacular. Somebody on one of the clubs was telling me that, as they approached the stadium and saw the lights on, they got chills down their spine, that it was one of the most amazing things they'd been associated with in hockey." Penguins C Sidney Crosby: "It's an amazing feeling. It's pretty easy to see why those guys get so pumped up coming out of the tunnel every weekend. Anytime you have that many people, it's something you dream of doing." Penguins LW Max Talbot: "It was pretty cool to have it at night, with all the lights." Kovacevic wrote, "Perhaps the most noteworthy victory was that the game was played at all, given what went into maintaining a sheet of ice after heavy rain Saturday morning, as well as temperatures that peaked at 55 degrees and stayed at 52 for the 8:12 p.m. opening faceoff." The ice surface "failed to fully solidify for the game, as large puddles brought sluggish skating and sloppy puck movement." Bettman said that he "remained in touch" with NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig and on-ice officials during the third period, but that he "heard no pleas for a delay" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/2).

Crews Removed More Than 3,000 Gallons Of
Water From Rink Due To Rain Saturday
ICE CAPADES: In DC, Katie Carrera noted "even as the revised 8 p.m. faceoff approached trepidations about the quality of the ice surface remained." Crews removed "more than 3,000 gallons of water from the rink and worked to restore solidity throughout the day." The game "went off as planned in the evening, but rain picked up as the game progressed" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/2). Also in DC, Tarik El-Bashir noted the conditions "deteriorated in the third period," and the NHL's hockey operations department "decided to have the teams switch sides at the 10-minute mark because of wind gusts" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/2). ESPN.com's Burnside & LeBrun noted most players said that the ice was "still in good shape despite the rain," but there was "one thing that was obvious throughout the evening: the puck bouncing." Burnside & LeBrun gave the ice surface a "C" grade (ESPN.com, 1/2).

SLIPPERY WHEN WET: In Toronto, Cathal Kelly wrote, "The ice surface was a bush-league mess. Pucks were skipping away or stopping dead. During TV timeouts, crews rushed out to shave the slush off the surface." Late in the first period, Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin "swooped in on a dropped pass, raised his stick over his shoulder, hit a rut and nearly rode his own face into the Pittsburgh goal" (TORONTO STAR, 1/2). The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor wrote the ice "seemed to glisten with too much water at first, then looked greasy as the game went on" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 1/2). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote Craig may have been the "hero." The ice was "awful for warmups," as there was "so much standing water, the players left wakes when they skated." But it "did get better -- at least for a while" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/2). In DC, Tracee Hamilton wrote under the header, "Winter Classic Turned Into A Showcase On Slush." Hamilton: "If you're going to stage an outdoor hockey game you'd better hold it somewhere with some guaranteed ice and snow. ... The NHL did yeoman's work in producing a playable surface at all, but players sometimes seemed to be skating through water" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/2).

MEMORABLE NIGHT: In Pittsburgh, Joe Starkey wrote, "Saturday night's Winter Classic was the most spectacular sporting event I have witnessed in nearly a quarter century of witnessing sporting events for a living. And I'm just talking about the pre-game." The change in start time was a "blessing, because an outdoor event always feels bigger at night." The skyline "lit up in all its glory, providing a magnificent backdrop for Heinz Field." Starkey: "It was impossible to tell what there were more of -- flash bulbs, Terrible Towels or goose bumps" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/2). Also in Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi wrote the "real winners were hockey's fiercely loyal fans in Pittsburgh and across the United States." Penguins GM Ray Shero: "All we used to think of on New Year's Day were bowl games. Now it's the Classic, whether it's at 1 p.m. or 8 p.m. -- and this is a great opportunity for the league. Playing it at night, when you think about it, (made) the Classic literally take on a different light" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/2). Capitals RW Eric Fehr: "The first time we came out for the first period there, the fans were loud. It was everything you kind of dreamed of. It was perfect -- the darkness with the lights. It was great." Ovechkin: "It was one of the best feelings in my life" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 1/2). Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis: "It felt big time, right? It felt like a NFL Monday night playoff game or something like that" (SPORTING NEWS TODAY, 1/2).

BIG-TIME BUZZ: In Pittsburgh, Bob Cohn wrote, "Not only did the foul weather that pushed the Winter Classic back ... fail to dampen many spirits, the nighttime setting seemed to have elevated the mood, creating even more of a big-event buzz." Parking lots around Heinz Field "opened at 2:45 p.m., about 5 1/2 hours before the puck dropped," and "when the doors opened at 5:30, a loud cheer erupted from the crush outside the south end zone" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/2). The TORONTO STAR's Kelly wrote there was a "throbbing tailgate going on pre-game," and visitors "had to start pressing hard against backs to get through the herd a full three blocks from the stadium" (TORONTO STAR, 1/2). YAHOO SPORTS' Sean Leahy wrote there was an "air of excitement and anticipation outside of Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon in the hours leading up" to the game. There was a "buzz about the game everywhere you went in the city over the past few days and that feeling was brought inside Heinz Field for three periods." It was "more than just a game to the fans that came to Pittsburgh, it became a week-long event" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/2). In Toronto, Rob Longley wrote, "I've been to a dozen or more Steelers games at Heinz Field and it is among the NFL leaders in tailgate atmosphere. The hockey fans were up to the tradition, rivalling the Steelers in pre-game atmosphere. The city was alive with hockey fans from both teams all weekend, not bad in a football-crazy market" (TORONTO SUN, 1/2). Leonsis said, "My highlight of the night? Below me there were two sections that were about 50/50 Caps fans and Penguins fans. They were looking at each other, and you could see there was some tension. Then they all started chanting 'Flyers Suck!'" (Fred Dreier, SportsBusiness Journal).

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