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As puck drop nears, Rupp savors second time around

by Mike Rupp
Rangers forward Mike Rupp is about to play in his second straight Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Rupp suited up for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field last year, and is in the lineup Monday for the New York Rangers.

Rupp agreed to offer up his opinions in blog form leading up to the main event. This is his pregame blog entry.

PHILADELPHIA -- The Winter Classic is big, huge in fact; but as a player getting ready for the game you have to treat the entire day as normal as possible. You know it's different and way bigger than just another game, but you have to keep on your same eating and resting schedule or else you'll throw yourself totally off.

That's what I've been trying to do today. Of course it's different with my family being with me on the road, but they understand I have a job to do.

Again, you know it's big, but when you're in the locker room, or clubhouse here, it feels the same. The guys are all doing their normal game-day routines. It isn't until you come out onto the field that you feel it and you see it. That's when you really notice the difference.

Having played in last year's Winter Classic with the Penguins I now have a greater appreciation for the entire event. A year ago I remember being a ball of nerves before the game, worried so much about focusing on just what was around me and the game, that I probably didn't absorb the atmosphere as much as I would have wanted.

Today I'm not like that. I'm trying to treat it normally, but the excitement is high for puck drop because this is just awesome. Being out here in front of the dugout now, watching the kids playing on the auxiliary rink that's made to look like a pond, that's what it is all about.

Yes this is a big rivalry game and an important two points on the line, but it's about celebrating the game of hockey and celebrating it outdoors. Driving in here on the team bus you could see the parking lot that seems to go on forever here just filled with people tailgating and playing street hockey. That is just awesome.

There aren't too many guys that get to a chance to play in one of these, and after today I'll be fortunate enough to play in two.

Of course, last year I ended up dropping the gloves with Washington defenseman John Erskine, but I make no promises on that for today. It'll just have to be a wait-and-see thing. There's no plan because it all happens in the moment.

For instance, I remember last year I was finishing a check on Erskine and he turned around and gave me a look. I was like, 'Alright, let's go.' Once you do that and you hear the crowd it's pretty amazing, but we'll just play the game and see how it goes.

Speaking of the game, we as Rangers are fortunate for the return of our alternate captain, Marc Staal. I had no idea that he was going to play until I got to the ballpark, but he's such an important part of our team and it's great to see him healthy and ready to come back.

Our defense has been a strong point for us all season, but now it's only going to get better.
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