Nearly three weeks after the Penguins and Capitals squared off at Heinz Field, Winter Classic fever is still going strong in western Pennsylvania.
Eight local high school teams will be participating in their own “Winter Classic” events as part of the High School Hockey Outdoor Charity Series, which will have two games at North Park and two games at South Park.
“We’ve been doing this since 2008, and we started doing this right after the Penguins played Buffalo in the first NHL Winter Classic,” PIHL Commissioner Ed Sam said. “It was such a success, and it has grown into such a success we are just excited about doing it through our charities.”
On Friday, Jan. 21, Mars will take on Westmont Hilltop at 6:30 p.m. and Seneca Valley will play North Allegheny at 8:30 p.m. at the North Park rink.
On Friday, Jan. 28, Peters will meet Pine Richland at 6:30 p.m. and Baldwin will skate against Upper St. Clair at 8:30 p.m. at the South Park rink.
All eight team captains visited CONSOL Energy Center on Monday for the Penguins’ practice, and they were treated to a visit to the Penguins locker room, where they met Brent Johnson
, Ben Lovejoy
and had a conversation with head coach Dan Bylsma.
The captains all said they were excited to play outdoors, just like the Penguins did in the 2008 and 2011 Winter Classics.
“It’s really sweet to play outside,” Mars captain Kevin Leslie said. “You see all the pros out there on TV playing outdoors and it means a lot to them. And it means a lot to us, to see our friends come out in the snow.”
One thing that makes the NHL’s outdoor game so great is that it takes the game back to its roots, playing on outdoor ponds in the winter. But today, playing outdoors isn’t so common, especially in Pittsburgh.
“I think what’s special about it is that you hear all the pros talk about how when they were kids they got to play out on the ponds,” Baldwin captain Brian Proud said. “But nowadays, there are so many rinks that we just go to the rink. So it’s kind of cool to go back to how they did when they were little.”
Upper St. Clair captain C.J. Murray said he occasionally skated outdoors on ponds at golf courses, but he’s looking forward to playing a competitive game outside.
“Considering that the Winter Classic was at Heinz Field this year, it makes it even better,” Murray said.
But, much like the NHL’s version, the PIHL’s outdoor games are regular-season games with playoff implications.
“No matter what you get it’s going to be a great time,” Proud said. “But also, you have to understand that we’re four games out of the playoffs and Upper St. Clair is our rival. So we’re going to come ready to play.”
The entire event benefits multiple charities – including the PIHL Paul Sciullo Memorial Scholarship Fund and brain cancer research in honor of former Penguins equipment manager Dave Ziegler.