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Players, coaches would play outside again

by Mike G. Morreale /

"I really felt like I was at the Super Bowl. With the aircrafts going over, the smoke and fireworks on the ice and just the roar of the people, it was an incredible atmosphere."
-- Lindy Ruff

Coach Lindy Ruff felt like he was at the Super Bowl. Forward Jason Pominville called it the greatest hockey event he's ever been associated with. Goalie Ryan Miller did his best not to zone out when the big snowflakes began swirling around during the third period of the 2008 NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo.

Yes, the '08 Winter Classic was unforgettable as the Pittsburgh Penguins scored a 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. The game, played before an NHL-record crowd of 71,217, was not only memorable for the fans, but the participants.

"I really felt like I was at the Super Bowl," Ruff told "With the aircrafts going over, the smoke and fireworks on the ice and just the roar of the people, it was an incredible atmosphere. To feel that energy as a hockey player and as a coach down on the football field and hear the roar of those 70-plus thousand was just overwhelming. It was a great feeling."

The 2008 Winter Classic will be held at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Jan. 1, where the host Blackhawks will meet the Detroit Red Wings at 1 p.m. ET in the 701st meeting between the teams. NBC will provide live broadcast coverage of the game in the U.S., while CBC and RDS will televise the event in Canada. The game also will be carried on NHL Radio, which will provide coverage for radio stations across North America and XM Satellite Radio, and will provide extensive digital video coverage.

"Seriously, I would do it again at any time," said Pominville, a Sabres forward. "There was so much build-up and we had heard about it for a while before the game actually took place, so everyone expected something big and it certainly was. It was even better than I expected, and the fact it was New Year's Day and a lot of family had come out to watch made it even more special. I'd do it again in a heartbeat if they asked me. Given the conditions, I thought the ice was good, but it was tough when the snow started coming down.

"I'm sure the snow made it unbelievable to watch in high definition TV and, I must say, it was really cool; a fun scene to be a part of. It was a huge event and I just have nothing but good memories about the whole experience."

Miller, the Sabres' goalie, never will forget the hotly contested game in the midst of a third-period snowfall.

"It was the same for everyone and watching the puck became a little bit harder when it started to snow," Miller said. "I'd compare it to driving in the winter when you sometimes begin to zone out while staring at the snowflakes; it's dangerous. It was coming down so fast and hard, you really had to pay attention and zero in on the action. I remember my eyes becoming so tired and, as a result, it became tougher to concentrate.

"The game could have gone either way. They had the Zamboni out there all the time and the forwards and defensemen were trying to combat the elements, as well."

Sabres center Derek Roy remembered feeling like a kid again.

"It was neat when the snow started coming down," Roy said. "It was like playing outdoor hockey as a kid again and I think it brought everyone down to earth from the usual big-arena venues. Playing outside and fighting the weather and the snow was a great experience."

At practice on the outdoor rink the day before the game, Ruff incorporated a pond hockey-type scrimmage at the end, which the players loved.

"You felt the excitement the day before because it was a beautiful day on New Year's Eve and we spent the last 10 minutes of practice just playing shinny hockey like it was on a pond," Ruff said. "It was back to their roots and the whole idea was just to let them have some fun. The guys were excited in the days leading up to the game."

Said Miller, "We felt like kids again when we had the chance to just fool around and play a little pond hockey. It brought back a lot of memories for each of us."

Prior to the start of the game, Doug Allen sang the Canadian national anthem, while famed Irish tenor Ronan Tynan performed God Bless America.

"When we were walking out, seeing the fireworks and the Scottish men playing the bag pipes, it was an unforgettable experience," Pominville said. "I'm so happy I was able to experience that and it's great that the League decided to do it again this year. I'm sure it will be a yearly event."

Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who scored the decisive goal in the shootout, has some advice for fans and players at this year's event.

"Bundle up," he said. "It's one of those things where you just have to embrace it. It's a big stage and a fun thing to be a part of. You're going to get up for a game like that -- it's just automatic. I think it's just a matter of harnessing all of that and pointing all your energy to where it counts -- on the ice.

"I think there wasn't one moment in particular (that stood out), just shift after shift. It wasn't the quickest game, it was just long, cold and pretty physical. The puck wasn't moving the best and a lot of guys were getting hit. We felt it a lot more the next day than we would a typical regular-season game, but I do feel it brought us closer together. If there was any one moment, I remember looking up before I took my (shootout) shot and I could barely see since the snow was coming down. The place was jammed still and it was hockey at its best. It was outside and it was pure and a game I'll always remember."

"The fans never sat down during the game even though there were so many stoppages," Miller said. "Because of the nature of the game, players really had more of an opportunity to take it all in, which is something you don't normally do when you're in an arena. I noticed that the fans really did entertain themselves during much of that game; it looked like they were having a lot of fun."

Contact Mike Morreale at
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