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Winter Classic 2011 Blog

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Winter Classic 2011 Blog

In memoriam
07.27.2010 / 2:10 p.m. ET

In concluding today's blogging, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other element from Doc Emrick's opening address:

"We do want to mention two losses to this sports community over the past four days. Kaye Cowher, the wife of former Super Bowl Steelers coach Bill Cowher, passed away on Friday, and longtime Penguins public address announcer John Barbero yesterday. We are very sorry for these losses and extend our condolences to the families," Emrick said.

For more on the death of Barbero, who was 65, check out this story on the Penguins' website.

-- Brian Hunter

Future Classic in D.C.?
07.27.2010 / 2:05 p.m. ET

Capitals GM George McPhee was yet another person on hand looking forward to being back at Heinz Field on Jan. 1. He also hopes this won't be the only time during the Alex Ovechkin era that his team will be part of the Winter Classic -- McPhee wants to see it come to the nation's capital at some point in the future.

"We have a number of facilities in Washington that we can look at and I know the League has already been in to look at some of them," he told the NHL Network. "We'll continue to work on that, but there are enough of them that would really do the job, that's for sure."

McPhee was reminded of the fact that the road team in each of the previous three Winter Classics -- Pittsburgh in 2008, Detroit in 2009 and Philadelphia in 2010 -- has made it to the Stanley Cup Final. The Capitals have been prolific during the past several regular seasons, but have not seen that translate into playoff success.

"We'd be very happy to accommodate the League and keep that streak going," McPhee said.

-- Brian Hunter

Summer vacation
07.27.2010 / 1:55 p.m. ET

In the latter stages of the month of December, NHL ice guru Dan Craig will be front and center when it comes to talk of the Winter Classic. He wasn't present at Heinz Field for today's festivities, however.

"Dan, who we work to the bone all winter, has the summer off," Commissioner Gary Bettman told the NHL Network in explaining Craig's absence.

It was noted Craig won't have nearly as much time to get ready this year because the Steelers have a home game on Dec. 23. The Winter Classic had been staged in baseball stadiums the past two years (Wrigley Field in 2009 and Fenway Park in 2010).

"We learned in Buffalo the first year, which was a football stadium, exactly how much time we needed to set up the rink," Bettman said. "Since the Buffalo event we actually purchased our own outdoor rink which we have and our ice people have familiarity with. We're confident, and we've obviously promised the Steelers that we can get this done in the right time frame."

The commissioner was asked what's the most significant challenge the League might face in pulling off another successful Winter Classic.

"Weather's the one unpredictable thing that we can't control," he said. "Although the mayor and county executive promised me 29 degrees and light snow flurries, so that was part of the deal. No, seriously, one of these days weather's going to be an issue for us, but we built in enough factors to deal with possible weather delays. But that's the one thing we can't control."

-- Brian Hunter

Steckel takes it all in
07.27.2010 / 1:45 p.m. ET

Washington forward David Steckel grew up in Wisconsin as a Green Bay Packers fan. He was the first to admit that Heinz Field in the 85-degree July heat was hardly reminiscent of the famed "Frozen Tundra," but he was enjoying himself just the same.

"It's amazing what a football field feels like when they're going to try and put a hockey rink in here," he told the NHL Network.

Steckel was asked about the Capitals' domination of the Penguins last season after losing a hard-fought, emotional seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals the previous spring. Washington beat Pittsburgh in all four regular-season games during the 2009-10 season.

"It was a statement for us, not only just in the regular season, but we'd like to think the conference has to go through either of our two series," he said. "Obviously we fell short this year, but that was our goal going in. We knew we had to beat them again. But there's always next year and it should be really exciting for this outdoor game."

-- Brian Hunter

Mario talks Crosby-Ovechkin
07.27.2010 / 1:38 p.m. ET

Mario Lemieux knows a thing or two about being a team captain, and all the pressures, responsibilities and accolades that come with it. He was asked by the NHL Network to address the ongoing battle between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin that is front and center when it comes to the Penguins-Capitals rivalry.

"Both captains have very high expectations to go all the way and win the Cup. That's always been our goal here in Pittsburgh and I'm sure with Alex it's the same thing with the Capitals. They've built an incredible team in Washington with a lot of talent just like Pittsburgh. I'm sure his goal is the same as ours here in Pittsburgh, to finally lift that Cup at center ice.

"Both players are incredible players, so much talent and will to succeed and be the best. When you have that, you get the type of players that we see every night on the ice."

-- Brian Hunter

Crosby ready for a second go
07.27.2010 / 1:32 p.m. ET

Sidney Crosby hadn't yet won a Stanley Cup or even played in the Final when he took the ice at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the inaugural Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008. Four years later, he and many of his teammates will play in the event for a second time, this time will a significantly larger percentage of the fans cheering them on.

"Yeah, it's going to be incredible," Crosby, on hand at Heinz Field for today's festivities, said in an interview with the NHL Network. "Obviously a lot of us played in Buffalo there and it's nice to get one at home. It's a lot of fun, it's going to be exciting and everybody knows the matchup and the rivalry there, so it should be a great game."

Asked how the Penguins might prepare differently having had past experience in this situation, Crosby said not much would change.

"I think for us, you just try to enjoy it. I think that's what both teams try to do. It's pretty easy to get up for a big game like this," he said. "You just try to take it all in. At the end of the day we're both lucky to have the opportunity to play in this game, and for a lot of us, the second time. You want to win those big games and that's always the goal, but you try to enjoy it as well."

-- Brian Hunter

Team presidents talk
07.27.2010 / 1:22 p.m. ET

David Morehouse got off one of the lines of the day as the Penguins' team president talked about their partnership with Art Rooney II and the Steelers.

"I have to say I like this better than your dad's idea of having Sidney Crosby play fullback or defensive back," he said before thanking Rooney and the rest of the Steelers' brass "for being great friends of the Pittsburgh Penguins and for allowing us to host the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic here at Heinz Field."

Morehouse echoed Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's sentiments that this won't just be a one-day event.

"It's going to be a week-long celebration of Pittsburgh, a week-long celebration of hockey in Pittsburgh celebrating youth hockey, high school hockey and college hockey as well as the Winter Classic," he said.

The visiting side in this game was well-represented by its own team president, Dick Patrick, whose cousin Craig is known quite well in Pittsburgh as the GM of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 1991 and 1992.

Patrick was also in a jovial mood, noting Doc Emrick's introduction that he has been president for 28 years and "that tells you how old I am." He then added: "I have good news. Because I'm the last one to the podium, there's not much left to say, so this will be brief."

Admitting he used to be a skeptic about the feasibility of an NHL game being played outside, Patrick has since come to a different conclusion.

"My skepticism was misplaced. The Winter Classic has been a huge success from the outset and now I think is one the premier sporting events in North America. The Capitals are very excited and very pleased to have been selected to play in this event. The teams that play in the Winter Classic are the teams that hockey fans and sports fans want to see, so we take it as a huge compliment that we were included."

-- Brian Hunter

A dramatic turnaround
07.27.2010 / 1:12 p.m. ET

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato was especially thankful to be standing at the podium at Heinz Field looking ahead to the Winter Classic. He remembers a time when there was doubt as to whether any future hockey games would be taking place in Pittsburgh.

Onorato expressed particular thanks to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and President David Morehouse for their roles in saving a franchise that once seemed destined to leave town, but now has a brand-new building set to open in a couple months and an outdoor game to look forward to in January.

"Mario Lemieux, we can't thank you enough for ... the Penguins' darkest hour, standing there and making sure that we all stayed focused on doing whatever it takes to keep the Penguins here," Onorato said. "And David Morehouse, your commitment to the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region, all of you pulling this off today, we thank you.

"This is going to be a great day on Jan. 1 for all of us. It's going to be a great day."

-- Brian Hunter

Pittsburgh pride
07.27.2010 / 1:06 p.m. ET

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl attended the inaugural Winter Classic, when Sidney Crosby beat Ryan Miller for the decisive shootout goal as the snowflakes fell in Buffalo. Now his city gets to host what promises to be an amazing event.

"I had the opportunity to sit with (Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux and (President) David Morehouse and I remember during the course of that game a conversation between David and I where we said to each other, 'We have to bring this game to Pittsburgh,'" Ravenstahl said. "And here we are, four years later, in Pittsburgh in large part because of the collaboration between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Pittsburgh Steelers and, of course, Commissioner Bettman and the NHL."

Ravenstahl envisions the Winter Classic as the continuation of a resurgence in Pittsburgh.

"We've been going through a transformation here in our city, a positive one," he said. "And in large part our national image is changing because of the positive exposure we've realized through our sports teams."

-- Brian Hunter

The commissioner weighs in
07.27.2010 / 12:56 p.m. ET

As the Winter Classic enters its fourth year, many hockey fans will be receiving the outdoor matchup they had been hoping for all along.

"If you love rivalries, Capitals-Penguins may be our best," Commissioner Gary Bettman said in his opening remarks. "If you enjoy the sight of team captains providing passionate leadership and game-breaking skill, I don't think you can do much better than Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. And if you can't get enough star power, both of these teams are loaded with it.

"And if you love the fact, as we do, that Jan. 1 is the day we welcome the new year with a great outdoor event that celebrates the roots of our game, no matter which team you root for, no matter which rivalry you prefer, then this 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic here at Heinz Field will be a must-see moment."

Bettman then introduced a series of highlights from the previous three games, dating back to the Penguins' 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Jan. 1, 2008.

Because the Winter Classic has become such a hot ticket, Bettman said the League would "once again create a variety of ancillary events that will allow more fans to connect" with the festivities. Those plans will be announced in the coming weeks and months. Bettman also reminded fans the best way to keep up to date on ticket information and Winter Classic alerts is to register at NHL.com.

-- Brian Hunter

Rooney's remarks
07.27.2010 / 12:38 p.m. ET

Heinz Field transforms from a football stadium to an outdoor hockey arena for the first day of the 2011 calendar year and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II couldn't be any more thrilled about it.

"We're very excited about this event. I think it's going to be a great event for our community, a great event for sports fans in the Pittsburgh area," Rooney said. "I want to thank all the folks connected with the NHL for their hard work in making sure we were able to put this event together."

-- Brian Hunter

Doc gets it started
07.27.2010 / 12:30 p.m. ET

Leave it to NBC and Versus lead play-by-play commentator Mike "Doc" Emrick to sum up this event perfectly: "This is an exciting day in the middle of the summer for all of us," Emrick said.

After making reference to the many big names on hand, Emrick highlighted the events to come: photo opportunities, media scrums and without doubt the most intriguing part of the afternoon, NHL players attempting to drive pucks through the uprights of the football stadium.

In his typical classy fashion, Emrick told a story to illustrate why it's so special to bring the Winter Classic to Pittsburgh.

"It is special for any of us who don't live in Pittsburgh to come here," he said. "When I graduated from high school, one of the jobs I got very quickly was at a small college near here called Geneva. My high school principal said, 'You will love it out there. People who live in hills take care of each other. There is a sense of community and hard work.' I found that to be true, and I always appreciate coming back here to see it exhibited once again."

The heavy hitters then began to beat their paths to the podium, with Emrick first introducing Steelers president Art Rooney II.

-- Brian Hunter

158 days and counting
07.27.2010 / 12:00 p.m. ET

Five months, plus this last week of July, still stand before us and the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

But today is the day the countdown officially starts, as everyone from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to Pittsburgh hockey legend Mario Lemieux and various other League and team officials and players congregate at Heinz Field to unveil the plans for the New Year's Day sporting sensation.

Starting with today's festivities and leading all the way to the drop of the first puck on Jan. 1, the Winter Classic blog here at NHL.com will keep you up to date with all the happenings, news and notes. Keep checking back here and watch the site later in the day for stories from Shawn Roarke and Sergei Feldman.

-- Brian Hunter