is the face of the NHL. But when he skates onto the rink at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, that face might have something extra on it.
Long-used by baseball and football players to cut down on sun glare, Crosby could be forgiven for not thinking about the greasy black smudges under his eyes among the other wardrobe choices for what could be the coldest NHL game ever played.
“You know what, that never even crossed my mind,” Crosby said with a chuckle when the idea was mentioned by a media member. “I never even thought of that. That could be a possibility.
“That would look pretty funny.”
If all goes well, there should be lots of fun had by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Buffalo Sabres, the 70,000-plus at Ralph Wilson Stadium and the national television audience watching starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC and RDS and listening on NHL Radio.
Playing hockey outside is all about fun. Growing up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Crosby said he occasionally played hockey in the elements, but really found his outdoor legs during his junior days with the Rimouski Oceanic.
“In Rimouski they had outdoor rinks,” Crosby said. “We’d have an off day and I used to get my trainer to sneak my skates into my car and I used to go shoot outside and play outside, and we’d have three-on-three games with guys on our team. We enjoyed that a lot. I can remember playing under the lights. That was the best time. They’d flood the ice about 8:30 (p.m.), think everyone is done for the day (and) I’d sneak out around 9 or 9:30. I had a lot of fun doing that. I’m looking forward to playing outside.”
His junior career now a blip on his radar, Crosby thought his days on the ponds were over. But if the NHL Winter Classic is a success, the League could make the New Year’s Day game a yearly tradition. There’s already been talk of a game at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium between the Pens and the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I thought my outdoor days were done, for sure,” Crosby said. “Maybe getting home in the winter and playing an odd game with some kids or with some friends, I didn’t think I’d be playing outside in an NHL game.
“I think we all feel pretty fortunate to be part of the two teams that are playing. There could have been other teams that did this, so I think we’re all feeling pretty lucky we have this chance.”
It may have been a while since Crosby laced up his skates outside, but if he has any questions, there are a few teammates he can turn to. Georges Laraque and Ty Conklin played for the Edmonton Oilers at the 2003 Heritage Classic, and Adam Hall suited up for Michigan State in “The Cold War” game in 2001 against Michigan.
“I think with Hall in Michigan there, it wasn't maybe quite as cold as it was for Georges and Conks when they were in Edmonton,” said Crosby. “You know, they always talk about how cold it was. They were saying kind of the best place was on the bench where the heaters were because it was so cold.”
Crosby averages 21:04 per game, the most among Penguins forwards, so he’ll have to find other ways to stay warm.
“I think they've talked to some of the football people about maybe something that's going to cover your neck and your head,” he said. “Definitely you're probably going to be changing your long underwear between periods, at least your top shirt. We'll have to see about gloves, whether guys are comfortable wearing maybe winter gloves underneath their own gloves. They would have to be pretty thin. I'm sure there are a few ideas bouncing around. We get the opportunity to practice once the day before. I think that's when you'll see some of the adjustments.
“But, you know, I think we're kind of going in and just kind of winging it with the practice and see how things feel.”
Crosby cautioned that the fun of the day, though, does have to be tempered by the fact that this will be a regular-season game, with two vital points at stake. The Penguins, with 40 points, and the Sabres, with 39, are two of nine teams separated by just three points but spread between fifth and 13th in the Eastern Conference standings.
In other words, indulge the inner child, but keep focused and stick to the game plan.
“Those were fun games, a lot of scoring,” Crosby said of the outdoor games of his childhood. “But I'm sure our coaches are going to make sure that teams are still playing the same way (as inside). As much as you enjoy playing outside, you’ve got to remember it's a regular-season game and there're points on the line. You can't change too much. … Hopefully it will be up and down, but hopefully not too confusing or having everyone everywhere.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org