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Pens-Caps rivalry stops at equipment room door

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
PITTSBURGH -- A strong loathing for the other side permeates nearly every corner of the present-day rivalry between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. That's part of what makes it so enticing to the fans and the media, and why the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic arguably is the most anticipated in the series.

However, those sour feelings haven't spread through the equipment room doors. That's where mutual respect and brotherhood get top billing.

Ranked high among the many items on Dana Heinze's Winter Classic agenda is the need to make sure his counterpart from Washington, Brock Myles, receives nothing short of first-class treatment from the moment the Capitals touch down in Pittsburgh until the second they leave.

Heinze and Myles are head equipment managers, only two of 30 in the NHL. They have their own teams, but in essence they're teammates for this Winter Classic.

"I wish I had more controversy to tell you, but I don't," Heinze told "They want their team to win and I want my team to win, but our jobs don't impact the score. We provide what we can for these players and make sure they have everything they need to go out and perform at the highest level, but I can't score goals or stop the puck, nor can Brock Myles.

"Our first time around experiencing the Winter Classic was so much fun and I really take my hat off to the Sabres staff. Personally and for the Pittsburgh Penguins it was a storybook ending, but I sit back and think about how those guys worked really hard and treated us great. Now we want to reciprocate." -- Dana Heinze, Pittsburgh Penguins equipment manager

"Our first time around experiencing the Winter Classic was so much fun and I really take my hat off to the Sabres staff. Personally, and for the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was a storybook ending, but I sit back and think about how those guys worked really hard and treated us great. Now we want to reciprocate."

Heinze said he's fortunate to have worked through one Winter Classic, and that it "really gives us the upper hand the second time around."

He wasn't talking about Sidney Crosby having an advantage against Alex Ovechkin; instead, he was talking about his own team, including himself and assistant equipment managers Paul DeFazio and Danny Kroll, being ahead of the curve because they already know what to expect.

"The first time was a little different because we were the visiting team and we really weren't responsible for everything, so I didn't really pay attention to the details of being the home team," Heinze said. "But when it came about (this season) and we are the home team, now it's on us, it's on our staff. We're responsible to turn Heinz Field into a hockey arena. Doing it one time already makes me feel very comfortable going into this one. We're really ready."

Heinze invoked some coach-speak when he talked about having a game plan in place, a timeframe in regard to what they have to do and when they have to do it.

"We're ready for this challenge," he said.

What challenge, you may ask?

"What we're going to do is basically take what we have here (at Consol Energy Center) to Heinz Field and by doing that we're going to make the Washington Capitals' experience just like our first experience," Heinze said. "We want them to come in and feel like they're walking into the Consol Energy Center."

Most of the heavy lifting will be done Dec. 29, when the Penguins, including Heinze and DeFazio, are in New York to play the Islanders.

"We're keeping two guys back and on the 29th while we're in Long Island," Heinze said. "We're going to have a crew of guys moving riveters, skate tables, glove dryers, all the necessary things that people don't see behind the scenes that make it work. We've had walk-throughs at Heinz Field so I know where I want to have things put. So those guys will have everything in place."

The Penguins have a planned off-day Dec. 30 before they practice at Heinz Field on Dec. 31.

"So that allows us (Heinze and DeFazio) to go right to Heinz Field at say around midnight and set our gear up," said Heinze. "So we have a whole day to prepare and turn the Heinz Field Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room into the Penguins' little oasis."

The Capitals will use the visiting NFL locker room, which Heinze said, "is just perfect for them.

"It's a new environment, but they're going to have their change room, they're going to have their locker stalls and their gear will be set up the same way."

Heinze's job isn't limited to his practice and game-day duties. He's spent months preparing to make sure his players are ready for whatever Mother Nature might throw at them on New Year's Day.

"We're probably guilty as charged -- we over-planned," he said. "We've ordered hand warmers and feet warmers and from top to bottom the special heat gear the guys will wear under their equipment, like hoodies and things like that. But, you know, Mother Nature wasn't so kind to us in Buffalo and I wouldn't have changed anything."

That's the other positive about already playing in a Winter Classic. The blizzard in Buffalo taught Heinze and his staff all they needed to know about surviving in the elements.

Unless it's pouring rain on New Year's Day in Pittsburgh, nothing will surprise this crew. But, if it's pouring rain, odds are the game will be postponed anyway.

"If something sneaks up on us I will be shocked," he said.

He won't allow it to happen to the Capitals, either.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | Senior Writer

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