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Emrick, McGuire reflect on past Winter Classics

by Dan Rosen

Pierre McGuire's favorite NHL Winter Classic moment is one he experienced from six time zones and about 4,200 miles away.

"I wasn't at the first one in Buffalo and I was watching it in Prague, and it was late at night," McGuire, NBC's Inside the Glass analyst, said Thursday. "The call I will always remember, 'Here's Crosby, with the game on his stick.' It was my great partner for the last 10 years, 'Doc' Emrick, making that call."

Mike "Doc" Emrick, NBC's lead NHL broadcaster, was putting words to the incredible pictures McGuire was seeing on his television; Crosby at center ice in the middle of a Buffalo snowstorm, ready to bear down on Ryan Miller for what turned out to be the shootout winner and the snow globe image for the NHL's new signature regular-season event.

"That's when I knew the game had magic to it," McGuire said. "I'm [thousands] of miles away watching it on TV, listening to Doc's call, and wishing, 'Darn I wish I could be there' even though I was covering the World Juniors."

The NHL's holiday tradition, born nearly seven years ago in Buffalo, returns two weeks from Thursday, New Year's Day, when the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks play in the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVA).

The Capitals and Blackhawks are returning participants in the Winter Classic, which has been played in Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, Mich., in addition to Buffalo.

Emrick has called five of the games. He had to skip the game on Jan. 1, 2009 at Wrigley Field because of laryngitis. McGuire has been at ice level for the past five. Analyst Eddie Olczyk has been at all six.

The elements always seem to be their lead storyline because they have a major role in not only the outcome but the memories created.

For example, Emrick is steadfast in his belief that the predicted snow in Buffalo drove ratings for NBC in the first Winter Classic. It earned a 2.6 overnight rating and a 5 share (1-4:45 p.m. ET), which at the time was the best overnight NHL regular-season rating since Feb. 3, 1996.

"I think our ratings probably grew during the afternoon because of not only cell phones calling around the nation saying, 'This thing is getting pretty interesting, this outdoor game in Buffalo,' but also because [NBC executive producer Sam Flood] had a meteorologist there," Emrick said. "When that blob of white showed northwest of Buffalo and you could tell it was coming, and it was already sleet, I think the phone calls increased. It's sort of like walking past a construction site with a hole in the wall where you can peer in and see how people are dealing with the construction. In this case it was the adversity or the challenge of keeping an ice surface so professionals can play on it. They sure did that day, but right on schedule here came the snow in the third and all during the overtime, into the shootout."

Wind was a factor when the Blackhawks lost to the Detroit Red Wings 6-4 at Wrigley Field. It helped create one of McGuire's favorite Winter Classic goals.

"There was a magnificent goal scored by Pavel Datsyuk, which was wind-aided as he blew through the Chicago defense," McGuire said. "It was phenomenal to be at ice level and actually feel the wind blow and how Datsyuk just accelerated through their defense."

Rain provided the challenge for the players on Jan. 1, 2011, when the Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 at Heinz Field. It also provided one of Emrick's most memorable Winter Classic stories.

"I'll never forget talking to [referee] Paul Devorski after the game in Pittsburgh, which had been postponed by rain to the evening," Emrick said. "It rained almost during the entire game. He told me during one of the wildest, rainiest moments of the night he happened to be standing next to Sidney Crosby and he just said, 'Kind of rough isn't it?' Sid just said, 'It's fine, we can play.'"

The unforgettable moments aren't limited to what happened during the game.

There were the helicopters flying over Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo and Jim Cornelison's legendary rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Chicago followed by Ted Lindsay and Bobby Hull taking part in the ceremonial puck drop.

"It's not just a hockey game," McGuire said.

It's an event for NBC, and that means the pregame festivities matter as much to the show as the game itself.

"As a child of Boston to see the great Bobby Orr coming into Fenway Park leading onto the ice, it was one of those goose-bump moments that was really special," Flood said.

Orr joined Flyers legend Bobby Clarke for the ceremonial puck drop prior to the game on Jan. 1, 2010.

"The shock that they didn't drop the gloves and get into a fight in the old Broad Street Bullies, Big Bad Bruins days, that's a subtext," Flood said. "The moment was really special as a Boston kid seeing [Orr] come into the ballpark and skate onto the ice there. Pretty neat."

There will be more memorable images and moments coming out of D.C. in two weeks. The elements could again play a role in how they're shown on television.

"The greatest asset we have in the NHL [is] not just the players, but their commitment to weather the uncertainty with smiles on their faces," Emrick said. "They enjoy it when they're playing in it and they sure enjoy talking about it when it's over. I love working this game."


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