It was a novel idea. The NHL would have two teams decked out in retro jerseys play a regular-season game on New Year’s Day in a packed football stadium.
The idea became a reality on January 1, 2008, when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres met at Ralph Wilson Stadium in front of 71,217 fans. It was dubbed the Winter Classic and that’s exactly what it was…classic. The Penguins pulled off a dramatic 2-1 victory on Sidney Crosby
’s shootout goal to win the game.
“It was a really neat experience,” Crosby said. “I think we all had a lot of fun. It was a lot better being on the winning side. We experienced the build up and the game itself was a classic game. There’s no better way to put it. It was a lot of fun in the snow and in that atmosphere. I think we all enjoyed it.”
“I thought it was awesome,” Rob Scuderi said. “It certainly was one my best hockey memories for sure. We’re all very fortunate to be at this level but to be able to participate in something like that makes it even more fun.”
The success of the game has spawned it to become an annual event, with all the glitz, glamour and hype to go with it.
It certainly was one my best hockey memories for sure. We’re all very fortunate to be at this level but to be able to participate in something like that makes it even more fun. - Rob Scuderi
“It was a cool event,” Brooks Orpik
said. “The Winter Classic was more of an event. It was really good for the league marketing-wise and for the fans. For us, it was really cool to play in and I enjoyed playing in it.”
One thing is for sure, the event lived up to the hype - especially the ending. Pittsburgh scored the first goal from former Penguin Colby Armstrong just 21 seconds into the first period. The Sabres tied the game in the second period on a Brian Campbell goal. The scored remained 1-1 through the rest of regulation and overtime.
Both teams notched one shootout tally when Crosby had the last shot. If he scored, the Penguins win. If he was stopped, then the shootout would continue. Crosby came in slow on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. After making a deke move, Crosby slipped the puck through Miller’s five-hole for the victory.
“I tried to control the puck until I got to the net,” Crosby said. “That was my main goal. There was tons of snow. I just tried to wait and see if he made the first move. He made the first move and I saw an opening in the five-hole.”
The Penguins benched emptied as the players embraced their captain. Both teams and fans were then treated to a fireworks display.
The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have a lot to live up to when they meet in the Winter Classic sequel this season. The two Original Six teams will play at Wrigley Field on Thursday, New Year’s Day.
“I think they’d be hard pressed to get the type of finish that we had last year,” Scuderi said. “I wish them the best of luck. I think it’s a good thing for the NHL. It’s obviously different but if it brings some people in to check it out then that’s a good thing. I hope the guys this year have just as much fun as we had last year.”
Crosby offered some practical advice to Detroit and Chicago.
It brings you back to the outdoor rinks and playing, and it’s an NHL game. Just playing in front of that many fans gives you chills down your spine. - Jordan Staal
“You have to prepare for the cold,” Crosby advised. “We had a great organization with our trainers and equipment staff making sure guys had everything they needed as far as gloves and long underwear.
"You just have to enjoy it and not worry about the other stuff going on. It was a great time.”
Another adjustment will be staying sharp through numerous play stoppages. The ice surface being constructed from nothing in the middle of the football field presented some logistical issues. The game was delayed on several occasions so that NHL crews could repair damaged ice and the Zambonies were needed to replenish the surface.
“They put a lot of time and effort into giving us the best ice they could,” Orpik said. “With conditions like that, I remember at one point it was snowing so hard we couldn’t even see the guy in front of you walking out. It was tough. As long as the ice wasn’t dangerous for guys are far as injuries, I don’t think guys really minded.”
“It’s a little difficult to play in because the flow isn’t really there,” Scuderi said. “At the same time, it’s the same for both teams. The breaks are the same, the Zamboni came out the same, there’s really nothing you can complain about. As long as it’s equal for both teams, there’s really not much you can say.”Marc-Andre Fleury
and Maxime Talbot had a great view of the game. The duo were recovering from ankle injuries, but were able to be spectators next to the team’s bench.
“Just to be there was awesome,” Fleury said. “The atmosphere at the rink in a football stadium was awesome. I was still excited. It reminded me of when I was young, especially in Canadian hockey, you play outside in the winter. It was snowing too that day. It was pretty special.”
I feel pretty fortunate that we were able to be a part of it. I think we’ll look back at that with some great memories for sure. - Sidney Crosby
Every player will take something unique away from the game. The memories from that day will stay with them forever.
“It was really special to a part of," Jordan Staal
said. "The snow in warmups was really neat. Just playing in front of that many fans gives you chills down your spine. It brings you back to the outdoor rinks and playing, and it’s an NHL game. All those things combined made it special.”
“You never think you’re going to play in the NHL but to play in the NHL outside that’s pretty special,” Crosby said. “I feel pretty fortunate that we were able to be a part of it. I think we’ll look back at that with some great memories for sure.”