|Brooks Orpik said he doesn’t plan on preparing for the Penguins’ Jan. 1 game against the Buffalo Sabres any differently.|
Well, except for the fact that this one will be played outdoors. In Buffalo. On New Year’s Day. In front of maybe 70,000 people at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Yup, just another regular-season game. One of 82.
“I don’t know if you can prepare any differently,” said Orpik. “As much as it is a different kind of atmosphere, it’s still a regular-season game -- counts just as much as the other games.”
Sorry, Brooks, but the Winter Classic -- the first outdoor regular-season NHL game to be played in the United States -- will be different for every player lacing up his skates.
First and foremost, it definitely changes everybody’s New Year’s Day plans.
“Usually I lie around, watch some football. It’s different now with the game,” said Orpik’s teammate, Ryan Whitney. “I’m sure I’ll be asleep before midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve. When I get prepared to play an afternoon game outdoors in front of 75,000 people, it’s a little different than lying on the couch and watching a few bowl games.”
Another thing that will make the Winter Classic different from any other NHL game ever played will be the sheer size and magnitude of Ralph Wilson Stadium. The building holds 73,967 for football; all 42,000 tickets made available to the public for the Winter Classic were sold in the first half-hour they were available, and another 30,000 were set aside for Sabres and Penguins season-ticket holders, as well as others.
That in itself could be intimidating for players used to skating in rinks that top out at the 21,273-seat Bell Centre in Montreal.
“I’ve been to football games, been down on the sidelines and it’s amazing how big the stadiums are,” said Orpik. “I remember one of my recruiting visits was to the University of Michigan and they have 112,000 (actually 107,501) people (in Michigan Stadium). Just looking up there in amazement at how many people could be there, and that wasn’t even when they were playing. It’ll definitely be a unique experience for everyone involved; should be a lot of fun.”
Also adding to the distinct event is the always unpredictable Buffalo winter weather and how it could affect ice conditions. Whatever Mother Nature has in store,
though, Whitney says it’s not worth worrying about.
“I think everything will be taken care of,” he said. “Who knows with the weather; it could be raining. As far as the ice goes, I remember watching the game with Montreal and Edmonton (Heritage Classic in 2003) and then Michigan State playing Michigan (in the 2001 Cold War game at Spartan Stadium), and everything looked pretty good. … Might be a little tough with the lighting. Guys will take a practice to get used to it. Rink-wise and all that, I’m sure after we go through one practice and warmups, we’ll be feeling pretty comfortable.”
And if he, Orpik or any of their teammates has any questions, they can just ask Georges Laraque, who played for the Edmonton Oilers when they played the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
|Ryan Whitney is one player who will be comfortable playing outside. Growing up in Boston, he and his friends always found time to take spins around frozen lakes or ponds.|
Whitney is one player who will be comfortable playing outside. Growing up in Boston, he and his friends always found time to take spins around frozen lakes or ponds.
“It was always fun. Usually you’re with your dad and friends or brothers. It was about having a good time,” he said. “You think of that and the holidays and it being cold outside.
“There was a pond near my house growing up in Massachusetts that my dad found. It wasn’t too big, but there was a guy who lived near there that was nice enough to put a net outside, so we’d be out there shooting until it was dark outside. Weekends, you could invite some people over, get some shinny games going. It was really fun.”
It also will be fun for Orpik, who was born in San Francisco but grew up in Buffalo. He’ll have a number of friends and family members on hand for the game.
“There’ll be a ton of people there,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls, a lot of e-mails. … There haven’t been too many ticket requests, I only have a handful of tickets to get. That’s one of the good things about it, going back home. Should be a lot of fun playing in front of a lot of people I grew up with.”