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Pittsburgh mayor excited about all Classic has to offer

by Dan Rosen /
PITTSBURGH -- Looking comfortable in his Sidney Crosby jersey, a replica of what No. 87 will wear on New Year's Day, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Tuesday helped Dan Craig and a few select youth hockey players from the Pittsburgh I.C.E. program paint the blue crease on the north side of the rink.

Ravenstahl, 30, is confident that the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will show Pittsburgh is the most positive light.

"We're really excited about it for a lot of reasons, but most importantly from our perspective what it means to Pittsburgh and the image that we continue to change throughout the country and around the world," Ravenstahl said as he stood on the ice. "Of course we all know this is a great sports town and we get to show it off once again. The Penguins have been great with including the community with events up to and including Saturday's game. We see that with the young kids here painting the lines. Just the uniqueness of the event is something I know we're excited about."

The Penguins have turned Winter Classic week into a hockey carnival.

Thousands of skaters, including several local and international amateur hockey teams, will end up skating on the Winter Classic Community Rink outside of Heinz Field before it closes on Jan. 2. The Hockey Hall of Fame has opened a trophy exhibit, including the Stanley Cup, at the Carnegie Science Center and Highmark SportsWorks across the street from the football stadium turned hockey rink.

"One of the things that the Penguins have been tremendous with, and the NHL also as a partner, is allowing the community to get involved." -- Pittsburgh Mayor
Luke Ravenstahl

The NHL is opening the doors at Heinz Field on Friday to 10,000 people who are buying tickets to see Mario Lemieux skate in the Penguins vs. Capitals Alumni Game before the Penguins hold their first and only team practice there.

There are other events going on at Consol Energy Center, including a Penguins game Tuesday night and a college hockey doubleheader on Thursday. Winter Classic festivities are also linked into Pittsburgh's First Night celebration on New Year's Eve.

"One of the things that the Penguins have been tremendous with, and the NHL also as a partner, is allowing the community to get involved," Ravenstahl said. "The reality is there is only going to be 65,000 people that are able to get in here on Saturday but the hundreds of thousands that are experiencing it in other ways is what the Penguins are to be commended for. This is a unique event, a one-of-a-kind event, and I really think the Penguins and the NHL have done a great job of reaching out to the community and including as many people as they possibly can."

Ravenstahl praised the NHL for choosing Pittsburgh as the host city for its signature regular-season event.

"We've proven over time that we are a city that can handle events like this and we're confident that the NHL already realizes that and will continue to realize that throughout the course of this week and of course during the big day on Saturday," he said.

Ravenstahl is aware that the threat of rain in the forecast for Saturday could dampen the party, but he is thinking positively.

"I know people are nervous and anxious, but I'm not one of them," he said. "They're going to play this game. One of the exciting things about the Winter Classic is the elements that are brought in. If they wanted to have a normal hockey game they would play it at the Consol Energy Center. It's going to be exciting, the unknown and the elements and factors that play into it. These folks are professionals. They know what they're doing and I'm more than confident that this thing is going to happen sometime this weekend and it'll be a great event."

One thing the mayor hasn't done yet is make a wager with his counterpart in D.C. because he doesn't exactly know who to call. Vincent Gray, who defeated incumbent Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty in the September election, is due to be inaugurated on Sunday.

"There is a transition happening, so there is going to be a new mayor taking over so I haven't wagered a bet," Ravenstahl said. "I certainly would be up for it if they wanted to do it."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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