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Posted On Saturday, 01.01.2011 / 1:00 AM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Staal effective in his first game of season

Jordan Staal hadn't played a competitive hockey game in nearly seven months, but you couldn't tell during his 2010-11 season debut Saturday night.

The 22-year-old had two golden scoring chances early in the first period and didn't look out of place at all during the Penguins' 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. He had two shots, an even rating, and won 11 of 18 faceoffs after spending the past two months on IR with a broken hand.

"Great trade by (Genaral Manager) Ray Shero getting that guy," Pens coach Dan Bylsma cracked. "I didn't know what to expect from Jordan tonight and what level he'd be at, but his first period was phenomenal, given the circumstances and the fact that he hasn't played.

"I think he had two or three scoring chances, was outstanding on the penalty kill. And so I thought he had an exceptional game. As the game wore on, maybe didn't have the same jump as he had there in the first period with the adrenalin, but he was a factor. He was good in the faceoff and penalty kill, and his skating was great, got to the net a few times. He was good defensively down low. The times he got the (Alex) Ovechkin/(Nicklas) Backstrom and (Mike) Knuble line he was a force down there as well."

Staal not only missed two months because of his hand injury, but he suffered that setback after he spent two months recovering from an infection following surgery on his foot during the offseason. H e admitted to feeling a little sore toward the end of the contest.

"The hold hip flexors were getting a little tight," Staal said of playing his first game back with slight rainfall. "The ice was a little soft, but it sitll turned out alright. Both teams were playing on the same ice. It was still a memorable experience."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Friday, 12.31.2010 / 11:44 AM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Wait, who's that No. 8?

PITTSBURGH -- Alex Ovechkin is synonymous with No. 8 and the Washington Capitals. But for about an hour during the alumni game, the No. 8 belonged to right wing Mark Lofthouse.

The 53-year-old Lofthouse played 181 NHL games from 1977-83, 141 of them for the Capitals. He ended a 27-year goal drought by scoring during the Caps' 5-5 tie with the Pens on Friday morning at Heinz Field in front of 10,000 fans.

Lofthouse added two assists and said he felt the pressure to honor the Ovechkin name and number. He also said he considered putting "Ovech-house" on the back of his jersey.

Following the game, Lofthouse could be seen purchasing Winter Classic memorabilia outside the temporary locker rooms where media had gathered to talk to the alumni. He said he has spent about $600 on hats, shirts and the like since getting to Pittsburgh.

After his three-point performance and a tie against a team loaded with Hall-of-Famers, he'll take home some pretty special memories too.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Friday, 12.31.2010 / 11:40 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Francis lives out a dream

PITTSBURGH -- Ron Francis has already played with and won championships with fellow Hall of Famers like Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey and Bryan Trottier. So, playing with them again in the Alumni Game here at Heinz Field was nothing new.

Francis, though, was thrilled for an altogether different reason.

"What makes it even more interesting for me is I've always been a die hard Steelers fan going back to the Iron Curtain defense," Francis told NHL.com. "When I first got traded here I got to meet Jack Lambert in the locker room after some games. I went to a lot of football games over the years and became very friendly with Bill Cowher and to this day I'm a big Steelers fan. To have the opportunity to be out on this field playing a hockey game with guys like Mario and Coff and all the guys you won championships with it's a special moment. I am really fortunate I had the opportunity to do it. I appreciate the chance."

Francis is also lucky he had this chance. His team, the Carolina Hurricanes, has played on New Year's Eve every year he's been on the executive staff dating back to 2006. The Canes, though, aren't scheduled to play again until Saturday, so Francis was able to fly into Pittsburgh on Thursday.

He'll have to leave Friday night so he can make it back in time for Saturday's morning skate in Raleigh.

"This is one of the few times we aren't playing New Year's Eve so it gave me the opportunity to come in," Francis, who is the Canes associate head coach and Director of Player Personnel. "Any time you get together with the guys and have a lot of fun, rehash old stories it's enjoyable. I thoroughly enjoyed this."

Francis said Friday was only the second time since he retired five years ago that he put on his gear. The first time was during the annual Hockey Hall of Fame Game during his induction weekend in November 2008.

He's on the ice everyday with the Hurricanes, but that's in a track suit and "you are basically just standing around and pushing pucks. It's a little different."

How did he feel when it was all over?

"I actually feel pretty good," he said. "I had pretty good linemates (Kevin Stevens and Bryan Trottier). They can work hard in the corners those two guys. Made it easy for me."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 12.30.2010 / 3:15 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Classic media skate

PITTSBURGH -- One of the perks of covering this event always happens two days before the actual game when Dan Craig is kind enough to let the media jump on his ice to skate.

The hour-long media skate on Thursday was simply fantastic for every amateur out there.

There were smiles everywhere and people snapping photos of their friends and getting photos snapped of themselves. Conversations ranged from the quality of the ice, which, by the way, played to rave reviews, to someone joking that they were going to "do the Ovechkin" and jump into the glass.

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.29.2010 / 10:09 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Trucks, trucks and more trucks

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't easy getting here this morning. The shuttle bus from the hotel had to take a winding route around the stadium and then drop me off about 100 feet from the entrance at Gate 6 because of all the trucks either in or nearby the loading dock.

It's packed in there as all the broadcast trucks have arrived. They're expected 23 trailers to fill that loading dock by gameday and that's about twice as many that were in Buffalo four years ago.

That sort of tells you how far this game has come.

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.28.2010 / 6:55 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Live from Consol Energy Center

PITTSBURGH -- This blog entry is coming to you from high above the ice at Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins and Thrashers are going through their pregame warm-ups.

The news from here this morning was all about Jordan Staal, who could be making his season debut on Saturday at the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Sidney Crosby, of course, is looking to extend his point-scoring streak to 25 games. He has registered a point in every game since Nov. 3 and has 24 goals and 22 assists during the span.

Over at Heinz Field the news of the day continues to be weather. Don Renzulli told me he's still seeing forecasts calling for showers and temperatures in the high 40s to low 50s, but while contingency plans are being discussed at the highest level within the NHL there is still plenty of optimism that the Winter Classic will be played on Saturday.

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.28.2010 / 9:25 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Hockey day in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- It's a big day here in the Steel City with the Winter Classic build-out going on at Heinz Field and the Penguins getting ready to drop the puck against the Atlanta Thrashers at CONSOL Energy Center.

Of course, NHL.com will be in both places.

I'm bringing you this blog from inside the quiet media room at CONSOL Energy Center, where the Penguins won't take the ice for their morning skate until 10:30. We're here early to shoot the Blackberry All-Access Show.

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Posted On Monday, 12.27.2010 / 6:30 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Have fun boys

PITTSBURGH -- The ice crew is getting a well-deserved night off.

Dan Craig told me Monday afternoon that they're about five hours ahead of schedule so he's giving the boys a chance to go out for a good dinner.

The ice right now is painted white and they'll probably be here until 8 or 9 tonight spraying water to seal that in. Once that's done they'll take off for the night and come back Tuesday morning to start painting down the lines and logos as well as spray water on the auxiliary rink to build that ice.

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Posted On Monday, 12.27.2010 / 5:35 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Dan Craig, folks, he'll be here all week

PITTSBURGH -- To get an idea of how good Dan Craig is feeling right now, you had to only listen to him at his media briefing on Monday afternoon.

Nearly all of the questions aimied at him and Don Renzulli at Monday afternoon's press briefing were about the inclement weather expected for New Year's Day, but Craig was a one-man show, cracking jokes and looking for laughs as he attempted to lighten the mood.

The first question he got was about that predicted rain. How does it affect his ice?

"It makes it very slick," Craig cracked.

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Posted On Monday, 12.27.2010 / 11:35 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Commotion comes to town

PITTSBURGH -- As expected, Heinz Field is buzzing with people this morning. There is plenty of commotion going on all around this place. It feels so different than it did the past couple of days.

The rink continues to take shape as the boys are on it right now with hoses. The goal is to paint white later today.

The ice pans for the auxiliary rink have been placed down and connected in the south end zone. Not far away workers are putting together the bleachers that will be used for 1,500 auxiliary seats that the NHL is bringing in for the New Year's Day game.

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Posted On Sunday, 12.26.2010 / 4:25 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Looking into glass

PITTSBURGH -- The weather has cleared up here and the ice crew just finished spraying some hot water on the ice to clear off the top layer that was covered in snow.

The ice looks like glass. You can almost see yourself in it.

I just passed Dan Craig, who was walking down one of the corridors holding a big box, and smiling widely.

The snow that hit Pittsburgh earlier today did set Craig and his boys back about three hours, but all that did was put them back on schedule. As long as the weather stays the way it is right now they'll be able to get back ahead of schedule over night.

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Posted On Sunday, 12.26.2010 / 11:15 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Rink taking shape

PITTSBURGH -- This is how well things are going here at Heinz Field:

Dan Craig sent his overnight crew back to the hotel at 2 o'clock this morning because they were so far ahead of schedule that he figured he could give them a normal night of sleep and have them back here by lunch.

Craig told me he's got about a half an inch of ice built already, so he's a third of the way to his mark before he brings out the white paint. He's planning on building an inch between now and Monday afternoon before painting white and getting in some lines and logos when that paint dries.

Craig will be doing an on-camera report for us later this afternoon, so make sure to look for that.

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Posted On Saturday, 12.25.2010 / 8:15 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Making ice in P-burgh

PITTSBURGH -- They're making ice here at Heinz Field.

Just after 7 o'clock Saturday night Dan Craig grabbed the front end of one of the two long hoses, walked to the far end of his rink and started spraying water. Craig looked like the happiest guy in hockey.

"This right here is one of the best feelings in hockey next to scoring a goal," Craig told NHL.com as he sprayed.

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Posted On Saturday, 12.25.2010 / 12:30 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Right on schedule

PITTSBURGH -- It was a white Christmas morning in Pittsburgh, but all that meant for the guys here was added labor.

Snow fell overnight and there was about an inch covering the ice pans, so the shovels and brooms had to be used to clear that off so the boys could get back to work. Fortunately it was so light and so little that it didn't require much effort.

They're still running some brooms across the rink just to be sure, but pretty much all of the snow and slush is cleared off now and the boys are hard at work putting up dasher boards and filling in all the cracks between the ice pans.

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Posted On Saturday, 12.25.2010 / 12:10 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Graveyard shift

PITTSBURGH -- After spending a few hours at the hotel I am back at Heinz Field. No rest for the weary, right?

Don't feel for me. My job here is nothing compared to the guys from the ice crew and all the union workers that are laboring overnight to keep the rink build for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic alive.

It's Christmas Eve (Christmas morning now), but they're working just like it's any other night because, in reality, that's what it is for the good men who have signed up to be a part of this event.

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Posted On Friday, 12.24.2010 / 2:45 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

A stage for the holidays

PITTSBURGH -- It's almost Christmas Eve, but the NHL ice crew doesn't care about that. It's almost their time to start plugging away here at Heinz Field, where the snow flurries have been falling all day.

It really would be a perfect day for hockey. The snow is not sticking because the ground is too warm for that, but the temperature and daylight is just right. The flurries would add the ideal dimension to NBC's broadcast.

But, hey, work still has to get done before we can get a game going here. Hopefully Mother Nature again proves she's a hockey fan and brings Pittsburgh a good cold front when the calendars flip to 2011.

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Posted On Friday, 12.24.2010 / 11:19 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Decking down, stage being erected

PITTSBURGH -- Heinz Field is slowly turning into a hockey facility.

I walked in here this morning around 10:30 to find floor decking down on the field and part of the stage built. It's fairly quiet on the field right now as you can tell by the webcam, but underneath the stands in the bowels of this first-class venue there are people hard at work unloading all kinds of equipment and office supplies.

You have to remember that because this is such a big event the NHL basically sets up a satellite office inside the facility until the Winter Classic is over. I am typing this blog from a table inside the Events office, which is actually the visiting college coaches locker room.

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Posted On Friday, 12.24.2010 / 1:22 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

The transformation has begun

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger took a knee for the final play of the football game here tonight. Soon after the Steelers' players were finished tossing their gloves into the crowd and barreling down the steps into the tunnel leading into their cavernous locker room the transition from NFL football stadium to NHL hockey rink began.

As I look out the clear glass windows in the press box right now I can see the goal posts being torn down and a few people surveying the field. They're using a tape measure to outline the dimensions necessary for the stage, which will be constructed overtop the grass field to compensate for the crown.

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Posted On Thursday, 12.23.2010 / 10:07 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

A little down time for Dan and the boys

PITTSBURGH -- Dan Craig held a meeting with his ice crew at the staff hotel Thursday. They casually discussed everything from scheduling to potential pitfalls and finally, what they were going to do Thursday night because going to Heinz Field was not an option.

Originally Craig's crew was hoping to attend the Steelers game, but since they technically don't have to be at the stadium until their walk-through Friday morning the guys decided to scratch that and head out for an early dinner so they could get back to the hotel in time to watch the Penguins-Capitals game as well as some of the Steelers game.

They'll meet for breakfast at 7 a.m. Friday before heading over to the stadium together. Even Craig didn't bother coming to the stadium Thursday night because there is literally nothing for him to do until the union workers put down all the decking and build the stage that will house the rink.

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Posted On Thursday, 12.23.2010 / 6:00 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - 2011 Winter Classic Blog

Touch down Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- This blog entry, the first of many from the ground here in Pittsburgh, is coming to you live from Seat No. 153 in the Heinz Field press box. As I look out the crystal clear glass in front of me I see a tarp spread out overtop the gridiron and the lights shining brightly on the yellow seats.

Steelers vs. Carolina in a matter of hours. Penguins vs. Capitals in a matter of days.

A football field tonight. The makings of a hockey rink tomorrow.

NHL.com has arrived on the scene for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, and the buzz it's obvious no matter where you go in this town. Pittsburgh has Winter Classic fever, and today's weather certainly helped.

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Quote of the Day

With this being the last year [at the Coliseum], we'd love to try to get back to the dance like we did against Pittsburgh and prove ourselves and go even further. It's an important year.

— New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano