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Stanley Cup Final

Bettman pre-game interview with NHL Network

NHL.com

Q. It's a privilege to welcome in the NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Gary, it's been a wild and maybe a turbulent start to 2011 because you have a lot of decisions to make in the new year. Take us through the decision-making process to push this game now to a night game.

GARY BETTMAN: First of all, happy new year to you and to all our viewers. We became concerned early on in the week based on the preliminary weather forecasts that we were going to have a little bit of an issue with the weather this afternoon. And what was paramount to us was to, A, make sure we were only going to play under credible conditions where player safety wouldn't be an issue; and, B, we didn't want to inconvenience the fans. 65,000 people here. We didn't want to subject them to sitting in the rain or an endless wait.
And when you're dealing with the weather, you're making a guess, if you will, an educated guess on somebody else's educated guess. The meteorologists who have been working with us, including from the Weather Channel, were terrific, and they were pretty consistent that this afternoon and during the morning, through the day, it was going to be an issue, and we made the decision yesterday afternoon with enough time to give everyone adequate notice that we needed to push the game up. And our broadcast partners, particularly NBC, was terrific in terms of cooperating in that decision.

Q. A well-thought-out decision, and right now it's reaping the dividends because when I talked to some fans in Pittsburgh they're actually quite happy to have this go prime time, a bit more time to enjoy New Year's Day. And when you get a chance to see this venue with the lights on, what are your thoughts?

GARY BETTMAN: It's spectacular. It reminds me of the first Winter Classic in Buffalo, the first time I walked out to the ice. You go onto the field and you see 70,000 people, which obviously isn't the typical size of an audience for an NHL game, the sheer magnitude of that stadium, and in this case Heinz Field, is really overwhelming. And the lights playing at night adds a whole new dimension.

Q. Can you put into words what this specific event, this spectacle means to the National Hockey League?

GARY BETTMAN: What it means to us first and foremost, it is perhaps a unique, special way for us to connect our fans with the game. Not just the fans in this case of the Capitals and the Penguins, but all hockey fans have something really special to start the new year with as they take in what has become a terrific event for us.
And it works well on a whole host of levels in terms of bringing attention to the game, activating with business partners, both on the sponsorship level and the broadcasters.
And I think perhaps as importantly, it's a lot of fun for our players. The teams like to participate because for a lot of our players it conjures up memories of their first connection to the game as well.

Q. A reconnection with the grassroots of the game. When we look around this facility the fans are starting to pile in. 30,000 fans are expected to be coming that are Capitals fans. Your thoughts on that?

GARY BETTMAN: Well, Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Capitals, was adamant that he wanted to have some ability for Caps fans to make the trip and come. Obviously there will be more Penguins fans here, and everybody knows what a great sports town Pittsburgh is.
I would also be remiss -- I don't know if you were going to get to this -- I have to thank the Steelers and Heinz Field and the Rooney family for all the incredible cooperation they've given us. This wouldn't happen without them.

Q. We just had Art Rooney II basically on the set a few minutes ago. We said the same thing about that amicable relationship between the Steelers and the Penguins. Truly a great sport city. It hasn't all been love and joy, because there's been some moments of trepidation not knowing what the weather was going to do. Let's show you a time lapse of how things have gone here at Heinz Field and get your thoughts because it really took some time and a lot of work to get it to where it is now.


GARY BETTMAN: Trepidation is I think a bit of an overstatement, because when you take the ultimate reality show, which is a sporting event, and in our case what is typically an indoor sporting event and you take it outdoors, you've now one-upped the reality quotient. We always know that weather can be an issue. It created a lot of excitement for us but it was really -- and the organizations involved, the NHL organization, the two teams, our broadcast partners, we needed to make sure we ran a smooth process and came to a sensible decision in a timely way, which is what yesterday brought us to.

Q. Isn't fighting the elements part of the process? This is what it's about. You're against Mother Nature as kids out there on the frozen pond.

GARY BETTMAN: You can romanticize it that way, but my preference yesterday would have been a forecast of 31 degrees and snow flurries, but you deal with what you're dealt and that's what we did yesterday.

Q. Your thoughts on Dan Craig. We saw him there. He's really been 24/7 out there, making sure this is a safe facility, because you made the point, and it's a very valid point: We're not going to compromise the safety of the players, not going to compromise the integrity of the game. Those are two things you guys made clear.

GARY BETTMAN: And the fans. And paramount to the 65,000 fans that are going to be here, we wanted to make sure that they were being treated in an appropriate way and they'd be comfortable with the way this event came off.
Dan Craig, who the world now knows as the leading ice guru, the leading ice maker in the world, does an incredible job. There's probably nobody in the world with his skill set, and when you team him up with Don Renzulli who runs events for us, they are together responsible for what you're seeing here tonight.

Q. This is live shot. Again, he's still working, right up until the last minute. It's all very serious conversations. I know you've been a part of this process as well from day one. I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you, moving forward, how many teams have approached you saying: Hey, we'd like to host one of these events?

GARY BETTMAN: At one time or another, just about every team in the league has said we're interested in either hosting it or participating in it, because obviously there's some markets, some clubs where it wouldn't make sense to hold this game.
But there is tremendous interest, including from places we've been to, saying: When can we get it back?

Q. What are you going to do? This is a tough thing.


GARY BETTMAN: We take it one year at a time. We'll worry about next year tomorrow.

Q. No 30 Winter Classics next year?

GARY BETTMAN: Dan Craig would need to be institutionalized.

Q. Is there a frontrunner, to follow up?

GARY BETTMAN: Not yet. We really take this one at a time. With every Winter Classic we've done, we learned something new, which is why each year we've built upon it to create a new dimension for it, and we have to sit down and debrief, take it all in, and then focus on next year.

Q. Let me quickly follow up. How important is the history, and how important is the geography when making that decision?

GARY BETTMAN: It all goes into the factor. We go to a place, we try to do matchups that we think will capture the imagination of our fans, because again that's why we do this event.