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Bettman praises Leonsis for Winter Classic

by Dan Rosen /

WASHINGTON -- The 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Thursday was a testament to the passion Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has for his team, his market, and the game of hockey, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said following the game Thursday at Nationals Park.

"What you saw here today from 43,000 people was a level of enthusiasm for hockey, for the Capitals that I'm not sure many people imagined could ever have been accomplished here in Washington," Commissioner Bettman said.

"[Leonsis] insisted, he was persistent, he was relentless in pursuit of this game and it was because he wanted it for Washington D.C. The atmosphere couldn't have been greater."

The Capitals got a late goal from Troy Brouwer to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 to improve to 2-0 in NHL Winter Classic games. Washington also won the 2011 edition at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

"I don't know what people's expectations were for our event here today, but the Winter Classic here in Washington couldn't have been better from a fan experience and an entertainment standpoint," Commissioner Bettman said.

He also said the persistence of Leonsis and his history as a successful owner of the Capitals made the League feel comfortable bringing its signature regular-season event to Washington.

"It's Ted's pursuit and persistence in making the Capitals such an important part of the community that brought us to the point that we believed that by bringing the Winter Classic to Washington we could have a great event and that's what we had," Commissioner Bettman said.

Some of the highlights for the commissioner were the F-16 flyover at the end of the national anthem and the replica of the Capitol Building situated on the warning track in center field, which had a frozen replica of the reflecting pool on the National Mall streaming out from it and running toward the rink.

Commissioner Bettman said a key to making it all happen is the fact that Nationals Park is a modern venue that opened in 2008.

"Because it was modern we could dress it," he said. "The Capitol Building, the reflecting pool, the military presence, the entertainment between periods, these were all things that created a fun environment for our fans. Again, this is an event that takes the game back to its roots. So many people learn to skate and play hockey outdoors, as young kids, and it conjures up memories of that. When you look at something that was focused on being in the U.S. nation's capital and you look at the way [NHL executive vice president of events] Don Renzulli and his events people dressed up the building, it gave it that special feeling."

Commissioner Bettman credited NHL senior director of facilities operations Dan Craig and senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell for their work in making the game happen as scheduled on Thursday.

He said there was a debate on whether the game would start on time or be delayed because of a sun glare, but after getting input from the players the decision was made to proceed as scheduled.

"We decided that we would have the players come out and warm up and see how comfortable they were with the sun conditions," Commissioner Bettman said. "The ice was fine; that was never an issue. The report we got back from Corey Crawford, the goaltender who was in the sun for Chicago, that he was comfortable, and the two captains told us that they were comfortable and we decided to switch ends -- just to make sure that nobody had any issues about fairness -- at the 10-minute mark. It worked out perfectly well. It was a non-issue."


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