NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was faced with several difficult decisions this week as rain and unseasonably warm temperatures blanketed the area throughout the weekend of the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
Saturday night -- just minutes after Washington claimed a 3-1 victory against Pittsburgh before 68,111 amped-up fans in the first Winter classic held under the lights -- Bettman talked to the press about the weekend's events.
Bettman talked about the decision to move the game's start from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, as well as the decision to play through a driving rain in the third period.
COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN:
Good evening, everyone. And happy New Year. I want to start out by thanking the Penguins and the Rooney family, the Steelers, and Heinz Field, all the organizations combined. And the City of Pittsburgh did a terrific job in helping us conduct the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
I also want to thank the Capitals for their participation, and both clubs, particularly the players, for the way they've conducted themselves on and off the ice, and particularly in the lead-up period that has been well documented over the last few weeks.
We had an entertaining game. The crowd was terrific. Obviously it started precipitating during the second period and into the third.
Ice conditions held up throughout. We were in constant communication, both hockey operations on and off the field. I was in constant communication with Colin Campbell
. The officials and the players were comfortable with the play and the conditions that they were playing under.
And all in all, I think it was a fun evening and an entertaining event. This is reality hockey when you take it outdoors. It becomes a little unpredictable. We played in snow and rain in Buffalo. I think it drizzled a little bit in Chicago or Boston. And all in all it was a good event and we were very pleased with what we saw.
I also want to make a point of thanking all of our partners on the business side, particularly our broadcast partner at NBC for showing the flexibility that was necessary to deal with the weather issues that we confronted through last night and into today. All in all, we're pleased with the event, obviously.
Q. I think at some point people will ask if the integrity of the game was compromised at all given the amount of rain that fell at various points in this game, how will you respond to that kind of criticism?
It was the same conditions for both teams. And as I said, we were at every stoppage, Colin, Dan Craig were in communication with the officials and both teams, and nobody was complaining about it.
And you know, while perhaps not perfectly, the puck was moving pretty well. There were a lot of shots on goal.
I've heard ice complaints when we're indoors in a lot of places as well. I think we were fine, just fine.
Q. With the success of the Winter Classic, it's great, and as you say, every one is unique in itself. Is there any thought being given ... because this is really becoming the centerpiece of the NHL. Now you've got the All-Star game. Any thought maybe given to moving that like to an end-of-season event, like to be in conjunction with the awards show or anything like that?
No, we're not planning on moving the All Star game. And while this has become a terrific, if not spectacular, event, you feel the atmosphere.
People outside in the street fair were telling me that this was like the Super Bowl. It's as big a deal. This is a regular season game. I'll take our Playoffs and Stanley Cup Final any day of the week.
But when you can get this kind of response to a regular season game, it's truly something special, truly something unique, and we're very proud of what has developed on New Year's Day in a relatively short period of time.
But in the final analysis, as big an event as this is, it still comes down to who wins the Cup.