|NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman could not have been happier with the way that the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic panned out.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had a firsthand view of the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic, and he came away impressed with the entire production.
“This was a memorable and outstanding afternoon, and I want to thank everyone who had something to do with making this game possible -- particular the Sabres and Penguins, the Bills, the city of Buffalo, the NHL’s ice crew and the entire NHL staff,” Bettman said in a statement. “Their close collaboration conquered significant challenges and achieved a superbly successful event.”
Bettman also hinted that the League would look into making the Winter Classic a tradition.
“This was a fun afternoon -- fun for the 71,000-plus in attendance and fun for the viewers of NBC, the CBC and RDS, all of whom did a terrific job covering the game,” Bettman said. “Based on the response, on our ability to execute, and the inquiries we’re getting from clubs for similar activities, this obviously is something we’re going to look at doing again. This type of event we certainly will be looking at doing in the future.”
No complaints -- Despite some extra stoppages in play to either clean the entire sheet of ice or repair some portions of it, the players said the ice conditions were not bad at all, even with snow falling throughout the entire game.
“I thought the ice was fine at all times,” Buffalo right wing Jason Pominville said. “There were a few holes that would keep coming back, but I thought the ice was fine. The only tough part was the snow buildup on the ice. It made it tougher for guys to stickhandle and shoot.”
“I guess if we could have wished for one thing it would have been a little less snow, but I think it added to it a bit, too,” added Pittsburgh goalie Ty Conklin.
The extra breaks didn’t bother the players either.
“It’s something we all had to anticipate, especially with the snow,” Conklin said. “Cleaning it off was something they had to do to make the game playable.”
Pominville said the cold weather didn’t bother him one bit. He wore the same garb he usually wears when he plays indoors.
“I wasn’t cold. The benches were heated,” he said. “The weather was fine.”
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller had no problem keeping his feet warm.
“I had little heaters underneath my foot pads on my skates,” Miller said. “Well, not heaters, but you know what I mean, the hunting thing, the hunting version.”
We think he means toe warmers.
Just like little boys -- The little kids skating on the auxiliary rink, who were members of Hasek’s Heroes, were all smiles throughout the event. According to Sabres center Derek Roy, the big kids skating on the main rink were the same way.
“Guys were smiling on the ice and laughing,” Roy said. “It’s one of those events to cherish, to just have a smile on your face and play the game of hockey. I think it was a little more relaxed than normal, but the two points were there and everyone was battling for them.”
Piped in -- One of the memorable moments of Tuesday’s event happened when the Penguins and Sabres came out for pre-game warmups. They were escorted through the tunnel and onto the field by the Celtic Spirit Pipe Band.
“I tell ya, when we came on the ice to start the game with the band and the crowd, that was quite a feeling for sure,” Armstrong said. “It was something else.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect walking out of that tunnel with both teams coming out at the same time,” added Pominville. “They had the pipes going, it was a fun feeling. Besides losing the game everything around this was just terrific.”
Here’s my idea -- After the NHL Winter Classic, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell had an idea on what to do with the rink built into Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Rather than go to all the trouble of melting the ice and breaking down the boards, he suggests leaving everything in place. It’s not like the playing field is needed, as the Bills won’t play another game until August.
“They should keep the rink up there for a while,” said Campbell. “They can rent it out and make some money.”
The couple of dozen NHL, Sabres and NFL Buffalo Bills employees who got to enjoy an hour or so of play on the rink after the Winter Classic would surely agree, but it can’t happen.
“Our agreement with the Bills calls for everything to be off the field and out of the stadium by 8 a.m. Friday,” said Dan Craig, the NHL Facilities Operations Manager, but better known as “The Ice Man.”
It’s kind of like Robert Duvall's rueful line in Apocalypse Now: “You know, boys, someday this war will be over (sigh).”
Yes, the Winter Classic is over but it was a memorable event and more importantly, a great game, a 2-1 game decided in a shootout.
Back on the homefront -- Meanwhile, elsewhere in Buffalo: While 71,217 fans were able to get into Ralph Wilson Stadium, there were thousands of hockey fans who had to find somewhere else to watch the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic.
More than 11,000 fans filled the downtown HSBC Arena for the Winter Classic House Party, where fans watched the game on the arena’s high-definition video scoreboard. They also were treated to a game between the Sabres Alumni and members of the Buffalo police and fire departments.
Not his first rodeo -- Sabres coach Lindy Ruff named defensemen Jaroslav Spacek captain for the month of January. Ruff rotates his captaincy each month and it seems to serve as a motivational tool.
Spacek was clearly proud to gain the honor, but it’s not his first time as a captain.
“I was captain of the Czech Republic team at the 1997 World Championship where we won the bronze medal,” Spacek said.
Homegrown talent -- Much was made of the fact that Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was the only Buffalo-area-trained player in the Winter Classic. Orpik is hardly the only good player to come out of Buffalo, said Bob Rosen, the coach of Williamsville North High School, which has played for the state championship in seven of the past eight years, winning three times.
“Jack Brownschidle, the defenseman who played for the St. Louis Blues and Hartford Whalers in the 1970s and 1980s, was the first,” Rosen said. “Todd Marchant, Kevyn Adams, Aaron Miller, Lee Stempniak, Patrick Kaleta, Les Kuntar, Pat Kane and Chris Hajt are all from the Buffalo area, as is Drew Larman, a Florida Panthers prospect.
“There have been a bunch of players, like Brooks Orpik, who went to Boston College and then onto the NHL, like Marty Reasoner, Jeff Farkas and Brian Gionta,” Rosen continued. “Brooks’ brother, Andrew Orpik, won a state championship here and is now a junior on the BC hockey team. Bruce Bennett played goal on that team and he's the starting goalie for Boston University. Shane Sims is at Ohio State.”
Staff Writers Dan Rosen, John McGourty, and Adam Kimelman contributed to this report.