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Winter Classic a hot topic in steamy Pittsburgh

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

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Winter Classic a hot topic in steamy Pittsburgh
Cool thoughts of hockey on New Year's Day were the subject of the day in Pittsburgh Tuesday, where the Penguins and Capitals looked ahead to the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
PITTSBURGH -- The NHL brought the heat -- literally and figuratively -- to Heinz Field Tuesday to announce many of the details surrounding the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

The temperature on the field for the press conference was well above 90 degrees as direct sunlight baked everything in its path -- including the dignitaries on stage to discuss details of the New Year's Day game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, two of the League's hottest teams who just happened to be involved in the one of hottest on-ice rivalries in today's NHL.

In addition to hockey talk in July, the Winter Classic logo and the team logos for the game were introduced and a first glimpse of how the ice rink will be laid out on the Heinz Field playing surface was provided. Yet it was the two teams that remained the stars of Tuesday's show.

"If you enjoy rivalries, Capitals-Penguins may be our best," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "If you enjoy the sight of team captains providing passionate leadership and game-breaking skill, you can't do much better than Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. If you can't get enough star power, both teams are loaded with it."

The captains have their own individual rivalry and the teams have authored chapter after chapter of scintillating showdowns. Two springs ago, the Caps and Pens played in an epic 7-game series in the second round that was dominated by Crosby and Ovechkin, including dueling hat tricks in Game 2.

Individually, Crosby won the Hart Trophy as League MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as the League's top scorer in 2007.  Ovechkin took both titles in 2008 and 2009. The pair has combined to win the last four Ted Lindsay Awards, given to the most outstanding player as voted by the NHL players. So there is little doubt these two teams will bring everything they have on New Year's Day. Certainly, those credentials were enough to earn them invites to the fourth edition of the Winter Classic.

"The teams that play in the Winter Classic are the teams that hockey fans want to see," said Dick Patrick, Washington's team president. "So we are pleased we were invited."

The Capitals not only have Ovechkin, but they have a high-flying offense that features gifted players like Alex Semin and Mike Green. Their fans are among the most passionate in the League, as well.

The Penguins possess Crosby, the face of the League, as well as Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup -- beating Washington during that title-clinching journey -- after losing in the Final the previous year to the Detroit Red Wings.

"When you look at the playoffs, I don't think you can imagine it being more intense than it already is," Crosby said. "It's there. This will add to it. This will be another storyline, another event with the two teams, but I can't see it being any more intense than it already is and if it is, then great. We're going to see a great hockey game."

This is Pittsburgh's second time in the outdoor showcase. The Penguins played in the inaugural Classic in 2008, defeating the host Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Crosby scored the game-deciding goal in a shootout contested through a snow squall in what became the iconic moment of that game.

Chicago's Wrigley Field hosted the 2009 game between the Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings, and Fenway Park was the site of last year's game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Now, the Steel City -- and its passionate hockey fans -- has the opportunity to add to the rich fabric of an event that Forbes Magazine dubbed the best new sporting event of the past decade.

"It's going to be great," Crosby said. "We played our (Winter Classic) on the road and to have our fans here and we expect Washington fans here too, but we hope to be the majority. We'll be excited. This, like I said, is an opportunity that guys appreciate. Only a couple of teams get to do this every year. To be at home and to feel this excitement, it's going to be a lot of fun.

Even though this is Washington's first go-around at the Winter Classic, the enormity of what awaits is already hitting.
"We played our (Winter Classic) on the road and to have our fans here and we expect Washington fans here too, but we hope to be the majority. We'll be excited. This, like I said, is an opportunity that guys appreciate. Only a couple of teams get to do this every year. To be at home and to feel this excitement, it's going to be a lot of fun." -- Sidney Crosby

"You hope to be a part of it as a player -- the pageantry of it all and the whole spectacle that it is," said Mike Knuble, the Capitals' power forward who made the trip to Pittsburgh Tuesday to be a part of the press conference.

"It's a big thrill as a player to get a chance to play and you're probably going to look forward to it throughout the whole year," Knuble added. "It's not just about the 2-1/2 hours of the game; it's the anticipation. It can really consume a city, much like a bowl game at that time of year."

Capitals forward David Steckel also was on hand, trying to get his head around skating on the Heinz Field playing surface before a packed house of rabid fans.

"The reason I'm here today is to try to take it all in," Steckel said. "The first (Winter Classic) you're like, 'Wow, hopefully they can do it again.' It's a staple now in the NHL. It's great not only for the players, but for the League as well. It's going to be fabulous. It's like going back to old-time hockey. It should be fun."

Not only fun, but memorable.

"It is going to be a tough ticket," Pittsburgh Steelers co-owner Art Rooney II said. "There is going to be a lot of demand for it and that is what makes it an exciting event. Everybody wants to be here and be a part of it. That's why we are excited to be hosting it."