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Recalling top moments in Winter Classic history

by David Kalan
With Monday's announcement that the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be played Jan. 2 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, preparations have begun for the League's annual New Year's showcase. The game between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers will be the fifth Winter Classic, but the event already has become one of the highlights of the season, one steeped in drama and tradition.

We have seen several memorable moments on the ice and off, from the idyllic scene of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby celebrating a shootout winner in a picturesque snowfall to watching Marco Sturm of the Boston Bruins set off a manic explosion on the frozen dirty water of Fenway Park.

All-Classic Team

LW: Jiri Hudler (one game, 2 goals, 1 assist)

Henrik Zetterberg (one game, 3 assists)

Eric Fehr (one game, 2 goals)

D: Brent Seabrook (one game, 1 assist)

D: Brian Campbell (two games, 2 assists)

G: Ty Conklin (two games, 2-0-0, 69 saves, 2.40 GAA).
As we prepare for whatever special moments the Flyers and Rangers will conjure when they face off, takes a look back at some of the notable events we've seen on outdoor ice, as well as a collection of which starting six players would make up the all-time Winter Classic team.

Biggest goal: Given the scenery and the home crowd, it would be hard to match Sturm's overtime goal 2010 Classic, but as a moment when the event proved its impact and its staying power, none comes close to Sidney Crosby's shootout winner against Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres in the inaugural Classic in 2008. With a steady snowfall cascading down, one of the game's brightest young stars scored the clincher in a finish that couldn't have been scripted any better. In addition to giving the Penguins the victory, the goal later became, to some, an almost eerie foreshadow of Crosby's gold medal-winning goal against Miller two years later at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Biggest save: In what was the most hyped Winter Classic yet, last season's showdown between the Penguins and Washington Capitals pitted rivals Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin against each other before a prime-time audience. While Crosby is the one with a championship, Ovechkin tried to steal the spotlight early in the second period of a scoreless game when the puck slid across the blue line and sent him on a partial breakaway. As Ovi carried the puck in on his forehand, he quickly went backhand and then forehand again in an attempt to juke Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury to the right post. Fleury was equal to the task, squaring up to Ovechkin, stretching his left pad and preserving the scoreless tie. Minutes later, Evgeni Malkin would give the Penguins the lead.

Biggest hit: For the second Winter Classic, the NHL decided to bring the game to one of America's greatest baseball stadiums, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and showcase the League's oldest rivalry. The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings were meeting for the 701st time when they took to the ice for the 2009 Classic, and in addition to arguably having the best set of uniforms in Winter Classic history, the Classic never has seen the kind of hit Brent Seabrook leveled on Detroit's Danny Cleary just 109 seconds into the contest. With Cleary dumping the puck into the Chicago zone in front of the Blackhawks bench, Seabrook crashed into him, flipping Cleary over the boards and into the Chicago bench.

Classic Numbers

Some noteworthy figures from the first four Winter Classics:

Total teams to participate in the Classic: 7 (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington)

Collective age of venues at time of game: 236 years, 1 month, 13 days

Total championships won by the current primary home teams of those venues: 17 (nine World Series, six Super Bowls, two AFL Championships)

Total number of players to appear in the Winter Classic: 143

Players to appear in two Winter Classics: 10 (Ty Conklin, Brian Campbell, Daniel Paille, Arron Asham, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin)

Total number of countries represented in Winter Classics: 11 (Canada, United States, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, France, Latvia)

Teams to have appeared in the Winter Classic twice: 1 (Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be joined by the Philadelphia Flyers this January)

Total goals scored in Winter Classic history: 19 -- the 2009 Winter Classic between Chicago and Detroit featured more goals (10) than the other three combined (nine).

Combined attendance at the Winter Classic: 218,258. Attendance at this January's Winter Classic is expected to push the total figure over a quarter million fans.
Best Fight: Philadelphia's Daniel Carcillo declared the day before the 2010 game in Boston that he would get into the first scrap in Winter Classic history. He did just that when he mixed it up with the Bruins' Shawn Thornton, but the two would be bested a year later when Pittsburgh's Mike Rupp and Washington's John Erskine got into it at Heinz Field. As the two traded shots, neither one went down for good in an epic tussle.

Best performance: While Crosby and Sturm have created the biggest moments at the Winter Classic, both would be hard-pressed to equal the impressive all-round performance put on by Detroit's Jiri Hudler in the 2009 Classic at Wrigley, when the left wing scored twice in the second period to rally the Wings from a 3-1 deficit, and then assisted on Brian Rafalski's game-winner in the third.

Biggest debut: Every NHL player remembers the first time he lit the lamp in the world's top league, but Danny Syvret's first-career goal was more memorable than most. Syvret had played in parts of four NHL seasons without netting a goal, but when he finally did he picked the biggest stage possible, breaking a scoreless stalemate at Fenway in the 2010 Classic.

Coolest moment: Crosby's shootout-winner may have been the goal that launched the Winter Classic as the League's biggest in-season event, but almost no other singular moment in the event's history could match Sturm setting off the frenzied celebration at Fenway in 2010. In a building that has been the home to figures like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Carlton Fisk, Sturm's overtime goal joined a litany of famed events in the oldest park in Major League Baseball.

Worst weather: One of the most anticipated NHL events in modern memory faced a considerable obstacle when rain threatened the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field. As the NHL studied weather patterns on an unseasonably warm New Year's Day in Pittsburgh, the showdown between the Penguins and Capitals eventually was postponed for seven hours in what proved to be unsuccessful hopes of avoiding the rain. Nevertheless, it created another memorable opponent with the two rivals skating under the lights.

An adapted tradition: Chicago put a new spin on one of Wrigley Field's hallowed traditions when Blackhawks alums sang a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Hockey Game" at the 12:37 mark of the third period.

They should call it the Fleury Award: The Selke Award annually goes to the best defensive forward, but if the NHL ever sees fit to give an award to the best offensive goaltender, they might want to name the trophy after Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury. His assist on Evgeni Malkin's goal in the 2011 Classic is the only point a goaltender ever has scored in the event.

The legend of Ty Conklin: When the puck dropped at 2010 Classic in Boston, it may have felt like something was missing -- Ty Conklin. Despite starting the season as the backup goalie, Conklin managed to start each of the first two Winter Classics, standing in the crease for Pittsburgh in 2008 and doing the same for Detroit a season later. In a remarkable coincidence, Conklin also played for Edmonton in the inaugural Heritage Classic in 2003, meaning he appeared in each of the NHL's first three outdoor games -- for three different teams.

Root for the home team? As the lyrics go, you're supposed to root for the home team in a baseball stadium, but you stand a far better chance of leaving the building happy if you're a fan of the visiting side. Boston's victory in 2010 is the lone win for the home team in the first four years of the event.
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