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Steckel: Classic right around the corner

by Sergei J. Feldman /
PITTSBURGH -- The natural tan suggested his freshness and offseason enjoyment, while the ear-to-ear smile suggested the excitement to play in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2011, in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field against the host Penguins.

And while the event is months away, Washington Capitals forward David Steckel knows that with a snap of a finger, it’ll be time to drop the puck for one of the NHL's most anticipated events.

"We have a month and a half until training camp yet," he said, "but I bet you this game is going to come around right around the corner."

That's why Steckel was among the Capitals' representatives at Tuesday's Winter Classic press conference on the 50-yard-line of the six-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers' home field. After speaking with other players who have had the opportunity to take part in the event, he's heeded their advice to the fullest.

"The reason I'm here today is to try to take it all in," he said. "You don't want to miss one thing and it goes by so quick, that's what everyone is telling me."

Steckel spent the last three years watching the Winter Classic as a fan and has been impressed.

"It was great to watch that first game on TV," he said of the 2008 game between the Penguins and Sabres. "You're like, 'Wow, hopefully they can do it again.' It's a staple now in the NHL. It's great not only for the players, but for the League, as well. It's going to be fabulous here."

For many reasons, too. One important one for Steckel will be the atmosphere. An Ohio State University product, Steckel has seen his share of big games in football stadiums, like Ohio Stadium, home of the Buckeyes.

He feels confident there will be a reenactment of that kind of special ambiance.

"I'm sure we'll try to get as many fans up here as possible, but I'm sure Pittsburgh will try to buy up all the seats. Maybe it'll be something like Ohio State-Penn State."

Or Ohio State-Michigan, for that matter. Steckel isn't the only Big Man on Campus in the Capitals' locker room. Veteran forward Mike Knuble -- who also represented the team Tuesday -- is a University of Michigan man.

But Steckel has learned to cope.

"It's tough to swallow at first," he said. "But you get used to it. He grows on you like a fungus, like most of the people from the college he went to."

Knuble remained coy in his rebuttal and opted to concentrate on just how exciting the prospect of playing in this kind of event means to him.

"The reason I'm here today is to try to take it all in. You don't want to miss one thing and it goes by so quick, that's what everyone is telling me."
-- Dave Steckel

"You hope to be a part of it as a player," he said. "The pageantry of it all and the whole spectacle that it is.

"It's a big thrill as a player to get a chance to play."

Arguably in the latter stages of his career, this opportunity is that much more special.

"These are thing things you want to accomplish as a player," he said. "It doesn't happen to everyone."

Despite the game being months away, Knuble already has had people in line to request ticket and hotel accommodations.

Living in Michigan will help with the planning, but with nearly 900 games for five different teams under his belt, Knuble knows there's something different and special that's attached to the Winter Classic.

"It does count for just two points on the schedule," he said, "but it's not just another game, it's more special."

Which is why he cautioned not getting too caught up in the hype.

"You're still going to have to play a pretty challenging game," he said. "But it's a big thrill."

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