NEW YORK -- The 10th anniversary of the NHL Winter Classic will take place Jan. 1, 2018, and although it's more than three months away, the players involved are already thinking ahead.
"You know the whole league is watching and it's the perfect time of the season as a team to kind of have a thing to look forward to," New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said Friday during a press conference at Citi Field. "You circle that date and really try to compete and enjoy the moment. It's going to be a great venue here having New York state fans come from all parts of the area to come and watch this game."
Citi Field, the home of Major League Baseball's New York Mets, will be converted into a hockey rink for the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.
Video: Players excited for outdoor hockey at Citi Field
McDonagh played in the 2012 Bridgestone Winter Classic, a 3-2 Rangers win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. He also played in two 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games, against the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, at Yankee Stadium.
"Being outside hearing the crowd, you get to play in the arenas throughout the season inside, but here in baseball stadiums it's upwards of 40,000-45,000 [fans]," McDonagh said. "... It's amazing to think that many people would come here to watch us play. ... Having it be the 10th anniversary, I'm sure there will be some special things added to it."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he didn't expect the Winter Classic to turn into a marquee event for the League when the first one was played between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins at New Era Field in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2008.
Video: EJ on the announcement of the 2018 Winter Classic
"It is absolutely gratifying the response that the outdoor games have had for the hockey world and greater sporting world," he said. "It takes the game back to its roots. So many of our players, so many of our fans learned to skate outdoors on frozen ponds. It captures the imagination."
Rangers forward Rick Nash will participate in his first Winter Classic.
"I've obviously done the [Stadium] Series, but I think the Winter Classic is pretty special," the 14-season veteran said. "[I'm going] to enjoy it, have fun with it, because you never know when you will get another chance at it."
It's the first time the Sabres will play in an outdoor game since the first Winter Classic, a game Buffalo center Jack Eichel remembers well. The Penguins won 2-1 on a shootout goal by center Sidney Crosby.
"I was just on the couch with my dad at home watching it and just remember watching the game and Sid scoring in the shootout," said Eichel, who was 11 at the time. "It was snowing out. It was pretty neat because I had never seen anything like that. Seems like every year it continues to grow and is such a big event. I'm just excited to be a part of it."
Video: Winter Classic celebrates its 10th anniversary
Eichel, entering his third NHL season, said it will be the first time he's playing an outdoor game at any level.
"Nothing extra needed to get up for that," he said. "Just being able to play here on New Year's Day."
Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly, who is going into his ninth season, third with Buffalo, also will be part of an outdoor game for the first time.
"Every year you look and you hope you get picked for one of them, and this year to have the 10th anniversary game is pretty special," he said. "It's a beautiful stadium and I think it's going to be a really good atmosphere."
Video: Eichel, McDonagh, Bettman on Winter Classic
Laid out on the field was an outline of where the rink is expected to be, stretching from first base to third base just behind the infield. Although it's too far away to predict the weather, Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon already put in his request.
"We want a little bit of snow, but no rain," he said.
Commissioner Bettman said other festivities, possibly including an alumni game, are yet to be determined.
"When we're buttoned down to the extent we are going to do additional things around this game, we will make the appropriate announcements," he said.