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Happy New Year! Pens, Sabres to play outside in Buffalo

Monday, 09.17.2007 / 2:00 PM / 2008 NHL Winter Classic

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

Rendering of Ralph Wilson Stadium with the ice surface put in.
The NHL announced Monday afternoon that the Buffalo Sabres will serve as host for the Winter Classic – against the Pittsburgh Penguins – on New Year’s Day, Jan 1, 2008. It will be the first NHL outdoor game in the United States.

The AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic, which concludes a home-and-home series against the Penguins, will be played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.

The game will be played at 1 p.m. ET and will be televised nationally in the United States by NBC. CBC and RDS will televise in Canada. Radio listeners can hear live coverage of the game on all Westwood One affiliates across the U.S. and Canada, as well as on XM satellite radio (channel 205).

“Many of our players have great memories of playing outdoors when they were growing up,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “This game provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase our great players, honor hockey’s heritage and ring in the New Year with the best fans in sports.”

Tickets to the AMP NHL Winter Classic will go on sale in the U.S. and Canada on Sept. 18, at 10 a.m., ET. Tickets may be purchased at all Ticketmaster locations, Ticketmaster.com, as well as on NHL.com, PittsburghPenguins.com and Sabres.com.  Tickets also will be available at the Buffalo Bills ticket offices.

“We’re very excited to be part of the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic being played in Buffalo on New Year’s Day,” said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier. “There will be over 70,000 fans in attendance and it will be a great atmosphere for hockey. Our coaches and players are anxious to be a part of the first outdoor NHL game played in the United States.”

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Buffalo owner Tom Golisano agreed.

“Buffalo is an excellent hockey town and I know they will support this event,” he said. “We know it will be a great contest and a lot of fun.”

The game, which has already drawn significant interest from fans and media outlets, is intriguing on so many levels.

Most importantly, the game features dynamic talent from both teams.

Sidney Crosby, in his first two seasons, has become the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins and, to a degree, the NHL. The 20-year-old had 120 points last year to become the youngest player in the history of North American team sports to lead a league in scoring.

Crosby has already drawn comparisons to Wayne Gretzky. Pittsburgh also features a raft of other promising youngsters in reigning Rookie of the Year Evgeni Malkin, 19-year-old forward Jordan Staal, defenseman Ryan Whitney and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The New Year’s Day game, says David Morehouse, president of the Penguins, will be a terrific showcase for the excitement that is building in Pittsburgh around this core of young superstars, and it will also revisit the not-too-deep roots these players have in the sport.

“It should be a great New Year’s Day,” he said. “It’s great for the NHL as a whole. For us, it’s an opportunity to play on the center stage of the NHL. A lot of non-hockey fans will be given the opportunity to see what is happening here with the Penguins and see the talent we have on our team and that is tremendously exciting.

“We have a young team, so it is not long ago that our players were playing the game on ponds – whether it be Sidney Crosby in Canada, Evgeni Malkin in Russia or Ryan Whitney in the United States.”

Buffalo has some dynamic young playing talent of its own.

Goalie Ryan Miller is considered to be among the brightest stars in an exciting crop of young keepers that have flooded the NHL ranks in the past five years. Third-year forward Thomas Vanek, 23, had 43 goals last year. Defenseman Brian Campbell was a starter for the 2007 NHL All-Star Game and finished among the top 20 in scoring among defensemen last year with 48 points in 82 games.

But, the game is about far more than just the stars on the ice. It is about celebrating what makes the NHL unique among North American sports and also celebrating Buffalo’s place among the elite franchises in the game.

“We consider it an honor to be involved in this game,” Morehouse said. “Especially because the Sabres are an organization that we respect and admire for the effort and success that they have had in the last couple of years.”

Buffalo is one of the most dynamic markets in the NHL. The club has been wildly successful on the ice in the last few years, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last two seasons and winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the League’s best regular-season team.

The club has also drawn well at the box office, selling out each of its 41 home games during last year’s regular season and tickets for this year’s games have been eagerly snapped up by the team’s rabid fans.

Additionally, Buffalo is less than four hours from Pittsburgh, suggesting that their will be a large contingent of Pittsburgh fans on hand for the game.

“If you know anything about Penguin fans, they will travel anywhere to see the Penguins play,” Morehouse said. “I can promise you their will be some black and gold in the stands on New Years Day.

“We may already be sold out for the year, so this might be the only time for a lot of our fans to see the team this year.”

The game will also draw neutral hockey fans from the hockey-mad Toronto metropolitan area, which is a mere 90 minutes away.

“We know this entire area is great supporters of the NHL and hockey at all levels,” Bettman said.

That recipe suggests that the 74,000 or so seats available will be in great demand and the record 57,167 fans that took in the first outdoor game – the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton – will be surpassed by the New Year’s Day gathering in Buffalo.

Bettman says it has been too long since that magical afternoon in Edmonton four years ago that made so many hockey memories for the game’s fans. The NHL is now ready to deliver the next outdoor-game spectacle.

“We were overdue for another outdoor game,” Bettman said. “But, we needed the right place, the right teams and the right time and we have it all here.”
Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions