"You really get the feel of what football players play in front of every week. Looking around and seeing all those fans in the stands, there was no better feeling, for sure. It was unbelievable how many fans came out for that game with how cold it was and the snow falling. It was a picture-perfect moment."
-- Jordan Staal
Their bus got pelted with snowballs, both on the way into the Ralph Wilson Stadium parking lot and on the way out.
It was hardly a hero's welcome for Sidney Crosby
and Co., but the fun-filled reaction the Pittsburgh Penguins
got from that snowy and historical day in upstate New York nearly one year ago is one of many great memories they have from the 2008 NHL Winter Classic.
"I was surprised, but we thought it was pretty funny," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi
told NHL.com of the snowball incidents. "It was better than them throwing rocks."
Just being part of the inaugural Winter Classic would have been enough for the Penguins. That they got two points in a terrific 2-1 shootout victory, capped by Crosby himself with his Hollywood finish, made Jan. 1, 2008 even greater.
"It was all new," Penguins center Jordan Staal
told NHL.com, "and pretty spectacular."
As a result of last season's spectacle in Buffalo, this season's version of the NHL Winter Classic, an Original Six clash between the Chicago Blackhawks
and Detroit Red Wings
at Chicago's Wrigley Field, has a lot to live up to.
"It was a great experience and it was great for the game," Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy
told NHL.com. "That's what we need."
Staal said his most vivid memory of the day was looking up from the temporary rink created on the Buffalo Bills' home field and seeing the NHL-record crowd of 71,217 in living color.
You heard about all the ticket sales and the buzz about the game. Seeing it live was totally different.
"You really get the feel of what football players play in front of every week," Staal said. "Looking around and seeing all those fans in the stands, there was no better feeling, for sure. It was unbelievable how many fans came out for that game with how cold it was and the snow falling. It was a picture-perfect moment."
Scuderi said the lasting picture in his mind has nothing to do with the game.
"For me it was when we came out for the practice (the day before)," he said. "I have never seen anything like that, so the first time I saw it was pretty special for me. I mean, I hadn't been outdoors and playing in I don't know how long, probably 15 or 16 years. That was the fun part for me, and besides that it was coming out right before the game and seeing all the people in the stadium."
Kennedy's memory probably is right in line with what most every fan, at least of the Penguins, can recall about the game.
"Sid's goal was a pretty big memory," Kennedy said of Crosby's shootout winner. "It was just great to get a win in the first Winter Classic."
"It was great to win," added defenseman Kris Letang
, "and that was the best memory I have from it."
Of course, like everyone else who saw it live or highlights on whatever network or Web site, they all remember the snow. Mother Nature turned a regular-season hockey game into a holiday card for the NHL.
For the players, the ice wasn't the greatest, but surprisingly perfect nonetheless.
"It was the perfect amount so you could still play," Scuderi said. "You couldn't ask for anything more. The whole three to four hours, it was just an awesome event."
This time around, the Penguins will have to give up their pre-game naps to see the game at Wrigley Field. They play in Boston that night, but don't be shocked if a few of them are glued to their hotel televisions anyway.
"I hope those guys enjoy it as much as we did because it was a great experience," Scuderi said. "I hope it has just as much success this year as it did last year. I enjoyed everything about it."
Even the snowball shower on the way in and on the way out?
"That was pretty good, too," Staal said. "Some guys wanted to (get out and start a snowball fight). I know that. That was pretty funny."
NHL.com Staff Writer Adam Schwartz contributed to this story.