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League changes Winter Classic start time to 8 ET

by Dan Rosen
PITTSBURGH – With rain expected to soak Pittsburgh throughout Saturday afternoon, the NHL announced the start time for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic has been moved to 8 p.m. ET (NBC, CBC).

Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel, who consults with the NHL on weather for the Winter Classic, confirmed there will be a steady rain in the afternoon. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had the final say on the start time and V.P. of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell notified the general managers of both Pittsburgh and Washington.

CBC will still have coverage of the game except for affiliates in Toronto and Ottawa, where it will broadcast the Hockey Night in Canada game between the Maple Leafs and Senators.

"We've been monitoring the weather reports all week long and they really have been very, very consistent," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told "According to the weather experts, there is a 95-percent chance that we're going to have a pretty steady rain at 1 o'clock. With all of the different accommodations that have to be made, we felt like it would be better to minimize the inconvenience of the fans particularly; but also for the rightsholders and for all the other stakeholders in the game. We've been in touch with the broadcast partners and we'll be good to go at 8."

The parking lots around Heinz Field are now scheduled to open at 2:30 p.m. The gates to the stadium will open at 5:30 with pre-game entertainment scheduled to start two hours later. Spectator Plaza, adjacent to Heinz Field, will open at 3 p.m.

NHL Network will air a special three-hour pre-game edition of "On the Fly at the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic" beginning at 5 p.m. and right up until NBC and CBC begin their coverage.

The puck is expected to drop at 8:12.

"It'll be interesting," Daly said, referencing a night game outdoors. "It'll be a great spectacle and I think it'll be a great visual here, particularly in this stadium. Hopefully, we can pull it off and we won't have any weather issues."

Bettman has been having daily -- and sometimes twice daily -- conversations with his staff about the weather throughout the week. Daly said the final decision wasn't officially made until 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. However, there were discussions about the switch throughout the day.

"The decision wasn't made literally until 15 minutes ago, but based on the fact that the weather reports have been so consistent all week long we made a determination in the morning that if the weather model hadn't changed significantly, we were going to go with an 8 o'clock start," Daly said. "The weather model hadn't changed significantly and the decision became finalized."

Daly is confident that weather will not be an issue with the later start time.

The players all had some notion that the game could possibly be pushed back to prime time. Nobody seemed alarmed.

"I don't see anything wrong with playing underneath the lights here; I think that would be pretty nice," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We've all got a pretty open mind to whatever happens and we should be enjoying ourselves no matter what the scenario."

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said it's better for the players to have a night-time face-off because it'll allow them to stay in the same routines they would have for any other game.

"You can sleep," Ovechkin said. "You can eat normal food like, you know, steaks, spaghetti, and just take a nap before the game. If it's going to be at 8, you can celebrate New Year's, too."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

The following is a list of changes for FANS based on the new 8 p.m. (ET) start time:

Gates to Heinz Field will now open at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Pre-game entertainment now begins at 7:30 p.m. (ET)

Heinz Field Parking Lots will now open at 2:30 p.m. (ET)

Spectator Plaza will now open at 3 p.m. (ET)

The following are the weather-related GAME procedure contingencies for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic:

Once the game has begun, it may be subject to one or more temporary stoppages due to unplayable weather conditions, at the discretion of the Commissioner.

Period and game format may be reconfigured to accommodate temporary stoppages as determined appropriate by the Commissioner.
The clubs will switch ends at the 10:00 minute mark of the third period as signaled by a "hard whistle."  The face off will take place where the play was whistled dead.  This identical procedure will take place at the 2:30 minute mark of an overtime period, if needed.

In the event of a shootout, each club will determine what end they prefer to defend, which could be the same end.

If the game is started, then stopped permanently due to unplayable weather conditions, it will be deemed "official" once two periods have been played. The team leading at the time play is stopped will be declared the winner and will be awarded two points in the standings.
If the game is tied at the time play is stopped permanently, any time after two periods of play, each team will be awarded one point in the standings, with an opportunity to earn an additional point in a standard shootout format.
If weather conditions permit, the shootout will be conducted at Heinz Field immediately after regulation play has been stopped.  If weather conditions make it impossible to conduct a shootout safely at Heinz Field, the shootout will take place at Verizon Center on Sunday, February 6 prior to the regularly scheduled Pittsburgh-Washington game.
If the game is started, and stopped permanently due to unplayable weather conditions, and fewer than two periods of regular time has been played, the game will be officially "postponed" and, if possible, will be played in its entirety at Heinz Field on Sunday, January 2, beginning at 12 p.m. (ET). If the game cannot be replayed at Heinz Field on January 2, it will be rescheduled at CONSOL Energy Center for a date to be determined later in the season.

Ticket holders must retain their tickets to gain re-entry to Heinz Field in the event the game is to be played Sunday, January 2.  There will be no refunds for ticket holders unable to attend Sunday's postponement date.  If the event is canceled on Sunday, a refund of the ticket's face value will be honored.  The refund does not include service fees, and other fees such as delivery or processing fees.   Ticket holders should review the back of their ticket for complete refund policy language. 

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