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Bylsma finally gets to savor Classic build-up

by Dan Rosen /
PITTSBURGH -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is finally letting himself drink in some of the buzz surrounding the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Three games in four nights following Christmas kept Bylsma fairly busy, but the Penguins' next game is the Winter Classic against the Capitals. So from now until the puck drops Saturday -- and even during that game -- he can soak in the atmosphere that has turned Pittsburgh into hockey's capital city this week.

"The number of people that have entered into our lives in the last day is just amazing," Bylsma said Thursday while watching the AHL game at between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears, Washington's top farm team, at the Consol Energy Center. "It's got a different feel right now than it certainly did before the (Christmas) break. (Friday) it'll go to even another level going to Heinz Field and out on the ice. The trainers are ecstatic right now by the way it looks over there, so we're excited to get over there."

Bylsma is no different than anyone else associated with the game -- he is crossing his fingers and hoping for good weather. He said he's been "briefed on the rules and regulations that could come into play if the weather doesn't cooperate," but feels even if the game is delayed the atmosphere will be so good that the players won't have any trouble getting revved up.

"There will be a lot of hype once the game starts and they'll feed off of that energy versus getting worn down and a little sleepy and then having to go out and play a game," Bylsma said in response to a question about how a rain delay would affect the players. "The atmosphere itself will lend to the guys being up for the game."

It's not as if the Penguins haven't dealt with adverse conditions before. Several of them did have to play in what was almost a blizzard in Buffalo in the first Winter Classic.

Bylsma wasn't the Pens' coach then, but Shero was the GM -- and he remembers it vividly.

"When you're playing outdoors with elements involved, whether it's football, baseball and now hockey, it is what it is, but we're going to deal with it," Shero told "Dan Craig is doing a great job with the ice. Our players will be prepared to play at 1 o'clock."

Shero, like Bylsma, is ecstatic at how Pittsburgh has reacted to the Winter Classic.

"We went through this when we played in Buffalo, but because it wasn't in Pittsburgh we didn't turn our attention to it until probably the day before," Shero said. "This has been building up, and we played Washington on the 23rd, which was a great game for the League and both teams. We're all looking forward to it.

"Your neighbors are talking about it. The city is talking about it. We're pretty excited."

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