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Pens excited for return to Heinz Field

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The last time the Pens played at Heinz Field back in 2011 for the Winter Classic, there was a different feel heading in.

Not only was it just the third outdoor game the NHL had played at that point; the players mentioned their experience filming HBO's all-access series "24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" as being something that intensified the hype surrounding it.

Now, six years later, a lot has changed - but the excitement around playing an outdoor game, especially at Heinz Field, is something that hasn't. And they'll get that chance for the second time on Saturday when the Pens host their cross-state rival Philadelphia at 8 p.m. for the Stadium Series.

"There was a lot more buildup leading up to the game itself with the TV show they had," captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think early on, there was just a little bit more buildup whereas now you see a few more games have already happened and things like that. But I think we're excited to be part of it and be in the game and have it here at home."

Once the game itself arrived, it didn't go great. Not only did the Pens lose to the Caps, 3-1 - they also lost Sidney Crosby to a concussion. But the Pens put that game in the past long ago and are looking forward to their matchup with the Flyers at the home of the Steelers.

"I'm looking for a bit better outcome than last time," Crosby said with a smile. "It'll be nice just to get out there. Playing outside is something special no matter where it is. To be here at home again and hopefully have a better memory of playing outside here at home, that's the way I'm looking at it.

"I think we're pretty lucky. There's a lot of teams that would love the opportunity to play in as many outdoor games as we have, and to be able to host a couple of them is even better."

And at least this time, the Pens have Eric Fehr on their team. The veteran winger, who spent parts of nine seasons with Washington before signing with Pittsburgh in 2015, was the game's No. 1 star after scoring twice to lead his team to victory.

"I remember being really excited for it, really nervous, it was my first outdoor game," Fehr said. "At that point it was a pretty big stage, it was pretty new. But it was a lot of fun. It was definitely a game I'll never forget. I remember the buildup, the big Capitals-Penguins rivalry, it was really nice to come out on the right side of it at that point in time."

And now, Fehr is hoping to come out on the right side of the Penguins-Flyers rivalry.

"It'll be a great game as well," Fehr said. "Things got a little interesting last time we played (with the weather), but hoping for some good weather and obviously it's going to be a great atmosphere. The fans are going to be excited. Those games are always fun to be a part of."

Especially for the Pens who are big football fans, like Crosby and Fehr - who said it's a unique feel being in the middle of a stadium with over 68,000 people in the stands - quite a drastic increase from the usual 18,787.

"It's hard to imagine playing in front of that many fans all the time," Fehr said. "It's a lot of people. It almost seems a little bit weird when you're playing the game because they're so far away from you that you almost forget that they're there, but there's about 75,000 of them. It's really an interesting feel. It really does feel like it's just you and the other team and that's fun, too."

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