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The sights and sounds of the Winter Classic

Friday, 01.04.2008 / 12:00 PM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (with NBC's Ed Olczyk) 
was well aware of the magnitude of the NHL Winter
Classic, and felt quite lucky to have been a part of it.
Seems like we’re always looking ahead in the Internet business thanks to the insatiable appetite for new content. That’s certainly the case here at NHL.com, where the planning begins on future projects while current events are still taking shape.

Because the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic proved to be such a distinctive event, I decided to take one more look back before getting back to planning the 2007-08 trade deadline and 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage.

***

*While building a rink on the field of a football stadium in Buffalo may not rank with the seven wonders of the world, it is nevertheless pretty darned impressive. The logistics and detail work boggles the mind. I mean, did you even know there was a crown to a football field that had to be leveled? The NHL’s Dan Craig sure did. Craig and his staff, whose exploits were so ably chronicled here by NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, gets a hearty round of applause for a job well done.

* So Sid, was it worth it?

”Yeah. I think that we all watched the Edmonton-Montreal game, and I think a lot of guys wished they were a part of it and we were lucky enough to have that opportunity. We'll see, maybe we'll have other chances to do this. Maybe not, maybe there will be other teams.

”You know, for me growing up, I played a lot outside and a lot of their guys did, too. When you see 70,000 people jammed into a stadium to watch hockey it's a good sign. The atmosphere and environment, I don't think you can beat that. I think it's something to look back and say we had a lot of great memories being a part of it.”

* And you knew it had to be a job well done when the media, which really loves to mock these kinds of events, especially if the initials “NHL” are involved, couldn’t find too much wrong with the whole thing.

* Watching the game on NBC, you can’t help by marvel at the continued excellence Mike Emrick brings to each assignment. Just a great job by one of the best in the business.

* Didn’t you love the old fashioned warmup jacket Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wore? That was sweet! And Ruff proved to be a pretty tough guy by opting for no headgear.

”I thought the jackets fit the game, you know, fit the uniforms, fit the game, “Ruff said. “You know, it's always good to put the blue and gold on when you wore it for as long as I wore it. I put that jacket on with pride today.”

* Also loved the Penguins’ baby blue jerseys. I didn’t think I would because I generally hate everything, but these were a nice touch.

* Sabres goalie Ryan Miller captured the spirit of the thing.

”I love the fact that the fans are standing up and chanting with all the music and getting really into it,” he said. “It was a cool experience, because everybody was so into it and so dialed in to watching a hockey game.

”I’ll say it again, they are all standing and, really, it's kind of a party atmosphere, everyone in different sections interacting and laughing and having a good time. That's what we feel hockey is all about; celebrate the sport, come out and have some fun and watch, have a good time. I think that was accomplished.”

* Ronan Tynan can sing at my next event, no questions asked. Our Adam Kimelman said his interview with Tynan was one of the most fun he has conducted through the years. Tynan is more than a singer, which, if you have those kinds of pipes, is more than enough. Quite the Renaissance man.

And it also was great to see the Sabres’ Doug Allen get some time in the national spotlight. In addition to singing the anthem for the Sabres, he devoted his life to the less fortunate in the Buffalo area and is just another example that hockey attracts people you want to be around.

* After seeing and reading about all the culinary delights that the fans were cooking up in the parking lots prior to the game, I have to admit the cup of soup I had with me looked pretty tame.

* Using my best Stewie Griffin voice from Family Guy, I say “Damn you global warming!”

I would love to see outdoor games in venues like Boston’s Fenway Park, New York’s Yankee Stadium or Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, but it just doesn’t get very cold around here anymore.

* Here’s an idea that figures to have Dan Craig chasing me around the office with a club – An All-Star Game on a pond in Minnesota!

$%^&@% (*)&)(^*^%(* (*()&$@%$ shouts Craig.

Sorry. Just a thought.

* I actually read a comment on a blog that said the end of the Classic -- Sidney Crosby scoring in a shootout -- was fixed. Man, some folks give us waaaaaaaay too much credit for planning.

* NHL.com started a countdown to the Winter Classic on Dec. 4. What became readily apparent in doing so many interviews on various topics about playing hockey outdoors was it resonates so well with people. I don’t think one person we talked to had less than fond memories of shinny on the pond.

It harkens back to a time when you went out and played a sport as a kid without uniforms, officials, manufactured rinks, etc. Maybe I’m getting old … no maybe about it … but that seemed like a better time.

The Pens' Colby Armstrong had to spend four long, cold mintues in an unheated penalty box
for two minor penalties during Tuesday's game.

* Loved Colby Armstrong’s quote about the penalty boxes not being heated.

“It’s a cold, lonely place over there,” Armstrong said. “There’s no heater in the penalty box. When you’re a bad guy, they don’t give you much.”

* How popular is hockey in Buffalo? How about the 11,000-plus who took in the Winter Classic from the HSBC Arena, watching the Sabres alumni play a team of Buffalo police and firemen, and then hanging to watch the game on the arena screens.

Impressive.

”On breaks, I looked around and it was incredible,” Ruff said of the 70,000-plus at Ralph Wilson Stadium. “We've got some of the greatest fans. I don't know if it would have been more than a few hundred people had left. When I looked around, there didn't seem to be an empty seat in the building, which was incredible. It was a great day that I think everybody kind of enjoyed it.”

* Were the HSBC folks the smartest folks around having avoided the cold, snow and sleet?

* Generally, I’m not one to brag, but I’m very proud of the job turned in by my team if writers who covered the Winter Classic.

Dan Rosen got into town on Dec. 26 and did a great job chronicling the building of the rink. Let’s face it, this can be a pretty dry topic, but Dan’s enthusiasm for anything hockey really showed. John McGourty arrived on Dec. 29 and before I knew he was there, he was out in the parking lot talking to fans who arrived a couple days in advance to buy Winter Classic gear. It was a classic McGourty moment when my phone rang and it was John reporting that “I just found former Sabres coach Joe Crozier in the parking lot!”

Last, but not least, Adam Kimelman got to Buffalo on Dec. 30 and hit the ground running. His stories were all top-notch, especially his rollicking profile of Tynan.

Stay tuned folks, the All-Star Game is fast approaching and there is little doubt the NHL.com crew will outdo itself in Atlanta.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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