Imagine seeing Sidney Crosby
and Mike Richards
breathing smoke as they face off in front of 107,282 bundled fans at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, Pa.
Imagine fans of the Penguins and Flyers tailgating in blissful harmony, college football-style, in the foothills of the Nittany Mountains before watching two of the Atlantic Division’s most bitter rivals.
With a little luck and a lot of hoop-jumping, it could happen. Maybe as soon as next season.
"I think the League wants to make this (outdoor games) a yearly event,” Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said. “If that's the case, we would certainly like to be involved in one of those games somewhere.”
And why not?
The NHL Winter Classic, which will be played Jan. 1 between the Penguins and Sabres at the Buffalo Bills’ 74,000-seat Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., will be the first NHL outdoor game ever played in the U.S., and is one of the hottest hockey tickets of the year.
It took less than 30 minutes for fans to buy all 42,000 seats made available for the New Year’s Day clash.
Four years ago, the NHL made history when the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers played the first outdoor game on a frigid November day at a football stadium in Edmonton. Who ever could forget the image of Jose Theodore in his toque?
In a little more than two weeks, the Pens and Sabres will create similar memories.
“I think it's going to be a great experience for everyone,” Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby said. “We all watched the Edmonton-Montreal game. We've all prepared for this at some point in our careers, playing outside, so I think it's going to be a lot of fun for us and for the fans.”
The outdoor game in Edmonton drew more than 57,000 fans. The Jan. 1 game in Buffalo is expected to draw 74,000 fans. But is the NHL ready for a game in Beaver Stadium, the second-largest stadium in the U.S.?
“I think that would be incredible,” said Flyers left wing R.J. Umberger, who grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Ohio State. “You can just imagine how intense and how much fun that would be. I have never played in an outdoor game, but I'd love to. To play at Penn State and having fans from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, that would probably be insane. It could probably be one of the best games in NHL history.”
Penn State’s Happy Valley is located 98 miles from Philadelphia and 225 miles from Pittsburgh. The coldest month is January, with an average temperature of 27 degrees and an average high of 35. There would need to be modifications made to Beaver Stadium, most importantly a refrigeration system installed on the football field.
"We've talked to the Pittsburgh guys and they're going to noodle it around,” said Flyers President Peter Luukko. "They're doing the one this year so they want to see how that goes. But I think it would be something really cool for the fans. We've looked at the weather here (in Philadelphia), and it's tough to do. You can get that freezing rain.”
"Big stadium, big rivalry,” Holmgren said. “I was thinking of Pennsylvania. I think it's a great idea for the League.”
Flyers coach John Stevens, whose wife, Stacy, graduated from Penn State with a degree in Communications, said he’s been to several Nittany Lions football games and thinks the idea of staging an outdoor game there is brilliant.
“The atmosphere up there is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a great town and it’s kind of the halfway mark between here and Pittsburgh. It would be an ideal situation. I'm sure you'd be able to encompass fans from both teams. I think it would be an awesome event.”
Flyers star center Daniel Briere agrees.
“That would be a pretty cool experience. It is not something that happens very often. To say that you were able to participate in a game like that, where there are over 100,000 people attending, it would be very special to be a part of a game like that.”
Around the Atlantic -- Not since Pat Burns have the Devils had a coach who openly spoke his mind, regardless of the consequences. Brent Sutter has been outspoken since he arrived in Newark, and what he had to say about his team following a 4-1 home loss to the Coyotes on Saturday was less than flattering. “One team came to the rink to play a hockey game,” Sutter said after the loss, “and the other team came to the rink to see what time their reservations for supper would be.” Ouch! The Devils played an uncharacteristically sloppy game, giving the Coyotes nine power plays. …The Penguins pulled out a 3-2 win over the Islanders Saturday for their first divisional victory since Nov. 15. But that didn’t stop the players from conducting a closed-door meeting after the game. Defenseman Darryl Sydor said players were upset at allowing too many chances on a five-minute power play near the end of the game. “We got away with one,” Sydor said. “It is always better to get away with one, but if you do not learn from it there will be a problem." … Flyers left wing Simon Gagne, sidelined since late October with a concussion, has been skating hard for more than a week and is nearing a return right around Christmas. The Flyers have been a model of inconsistency since he left the lineup, entering this week 9-9-3 without him. … With left wing Sean Avery sidelined at least another week while he recovers from wrist surgery, the Rangers have been going with Ryan Callahan on a third line with Chris Drury and Petr Prucha. The hard-edged fourth line has been comprised of Blair Betts between Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr. … Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro has been overworked lately. He entered this week having faced 34 or more shots in five straight games. In three of those games he faced 40 or more.