We were fortunate enough to play in the first Winter Classic in Buffalo in 2008. Right before the game started, I was standing next to Commissioner Bettman and said we want to host this game in Pittsburgh. We saw right then and there that it was a great opportunities. We didn’t expect to host it so soon, but I think it’s a tribute to our ownership, to our fans and to the city that the NHL thought it was important to give it to us.
The fact that we were able to partner with a great organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers and use their home, Heinz Field, makes it all the more special. We’ve had a great, long-standing relationship with the Steelers. I want to thank Art Rooney II and Jimmy Sacco for all the work that they’ve done to make this happen, and for the work we will all do together from now until New Years to make it happen also.
We are in the very preliminary stages of planning this event. We are going to try to make it more than just a game. We’re going to make it a couple-day event. It’s a tremendous opportunity to use the region’s resources and the New Year’s weekend to make this a two- or three-day event. We’re talking to VisitPittsburgh, to the Mayor, to the County Executive, we’re going to try to tie into the first night, New Year’s Eve, we’re thinking of doing a bunch of different things, some outdoor games. The high school outdoor game that we do every year, we’re going to do it around this time at South Park or North Park if we can. We may have concerts to coincide. We’re looking at potentially having other outdoor ice somewhere else in the region. We think it’s a great opportunity to showcase Pittsburgh on the heels of the G-20 and Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Pittsburgh is becoming known as a great sports town and a great city in America. It’s a pleasure to host it.
It’ll be a great thing for hockey. Hockey has grown tremendously in the region in the last few years. We have three years of consecutive sellouts. I think that was a factor in the NHL choosing us. We’ve had great hockey players come out of Pittsburgh and getting drafted in the NHL. Pittsburgh has always been a great sports town. It always will be. It will always be a football town, but it’s quickly becoming a hockey town also. This will cement that. We know it here. The rest of the country will learn it. On how hard the behind-the-scenes work was to get the Winter Classic:
I wouldn’t say it was difficult behind the scenes. The difficult thing was being chosen by the NHL. There are a lot of other cities that are qualified to host it, a lot of other teams that were interested. That was the biggest hurdle to get over. The Steelers were very easy to work with. We’re good friends with them, have a tremendous amount of respect for them, they’ve been very cooperative with trying to make this thing happen for us and for the region. On the team’s recent success: new arena; Stanley Cup; Winter Classic:
We’ve been very fortunate. I think it starts with great ownership. Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle definitely want to win. I think that shows and trickles down through the organization. I think it’s also a tribute to the area. The depth and interest in sports in Pittsburgh is unlike any city in America. That has helped us be able to be successful. The combination of great ownership and great opportunity and great fans have helped us build an organization. We’ve also been able to watch one of the best organizations in all of sports for the last 40 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s a good opportunity to learn from an organization like that. A lot of things moved in our direction, but a lot of hard work and dedication has allowed us to succeed on the ice and off the ice. On how many members of the season ticket holder list will have the opportunity to get tickets:
The one thing we know about tickets is that all of our season ticket holders and suite holders will have the opportunity to purchase seats at Heinz Field for the game. The rest of the details about tickets – everyone should just stay tuned to NHL.com and Pittsburghpenguins.com to look for updates.
On events he liked from previous outdoor games:
I would love for it to snow a little bit. That would be the best thing. I think the weather has cooperated tremendously. In Buffalo, I remember talking to the NHL’s Brian Jennings a couple weeks before the game. I remember asking him what his perfect scenario would be. He said low 30s, a little bit of snow flurries, a couple inches (of snow) on the ground and someone winning it in a shootout. Hopefully the same thing can happen and we do the same thing. I think the game itself and the weather are special enough. I don’t think you need a whole lot around it. That said, I liked that kids got to skate around outside. I like that they had concerts and that it became more of an event than a game.
On tying the CONSOL Energy Center into the event:
We can do something on New Year’s Eve. We are potentially looking at doing a New Year’s Eve concert. There are things that we can tie into the new arena and the rest of the city.
On pushing for the All-Star Game or the NHL Entry Draft in the future:
We are still going to pursue both. This is one event. We would still like to host an All-Star Game. We would like to use this as a platform to show that we can host those kinds of events.
On where the rink will be at Heinz Field and what the sight lines might be:
For a football stadium, it’s perfect for the outdoor game. It’s basically shaped like an ice rink. You can put center ice in the middle (of the field) and the ice comes out to the 20-yard lines. It’s great for viewing hockey. It can fit 65,000 people. It’s a great opportunity for people who don’t normally get to see a Penguins game to see it. We are playing the Washington Capitals so there is going to be some great talent on the ice.
On considering PNC Park:
Yeah, they were definitely in consideration. We thought that moving to a football stadium would allow a lot more people to view the game.
On a rivalry between Pittsburgh and Washington to host the game:
There is a rivalry on the ice. I don’t think there is a rivalry off the ice.
On the process of applying for the Winter Classic:
We started talking to the NHL at the first Winter Classic. We have periodically had talks between the first Classic and now. We started talking seriously and looking at viable options in Pittsburgh probably in November or December. We started having preliminary discussions along with probably multiple other NHL teams. On having to fill out paperwork to host the game:
Not really. There is not an application.On potential crowd control playing the afternoon following the New Year’s Eve celebration:
I think it is an opportunity. What normally happens with First Night is that people come down for New Year’s Eve and then they go home. What can happen, especially for the economy in the region, is people can come downtown New Year’s Eve, celebrate New Year’s Eve, spend the night and then the next day go to the Winter Classic. I think it is an opportunity economically for the region to reap some benefits. On the star-power of the Penguins:
We get a little spoiled here in Pittsburgh but the fact of the matter is we have had some of the greatest talent in the history of hockey playing here in Pittsburgh – Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey on up to right now with Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
and (Marc-Andre) Fleury. We are kind of spoiled by this. You are right to point out that it is a great collection of talent. It’s good for us to have that kind of talent for the rest of the world to see. Washington has a tremendous amount of talent. To put both of those teams out on the ice I think is truly going to be a great show.On incorporating past/present Penguins and Steelers together:
We haven’t talked specifically about that yet, but I am sure we’ll be talking with the Steelers about some of their current and former players and some of our current and former players getting together. On a Legends Game:
I am not sure we will be able to with this game because with the football season we don’t have the run-up (before the game) that we would if it was played in a baseball stadium. On the potential jerseys a team might wear:
There have been preliminary discussions on Winter Classic jerseys. On whether those jerseys would be worn prior to the Winter Classic:
If we did a new jersey we would wear it in that game.