When the NHL announced that the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic would be pushed back to an 8 p.m. start time, it probably was an inconvenience to some people.
But it was sure tough to find any of those people Saturday evening before the league’s first-ever primetime Winter Classic. With the extra seven hours, fans used that time to tailgate and create an epic party atmosphere around Heinz Field.
Penguins fan Kevin Kushner could only come up with one simple word to describe the festivities surrounding the game between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals.
“It’s awesome,” he said.
Music blasted from all directions, people played street hockey along the river with the city skyline in the background, and grills cooking hot dogs and hamburgers sent streams of smoke into the mild January air.
“It’s a lot better than playing it during the day,” said Becky Kushner, Kevin’s wife. “It’s just so much fun. I’m originally from Minnesota and we don’t get to do anything like this. This is just great.”
“Compared to the first (Winter Classic) when it was freezing cold, this one is so much better,” Kevin said. “The spectator plaza is nice. The NHL and the Penguins did a good job. “
Michelle Kurtz said tailgating is about more than just prepping for the evening’s celebration of hockey.
“I just like meeting people from all different areas,” she said.
Her friend Nick Davison agreed that the sociability is the best part of tailgates.
“It’s a way to enjoy our friends and families,” Davison said.
Certainly, the party was outside of Heinz Field for much of the day and the early evening. But once the gates opened, everyone focused their attention to inside the stadium – a chance to show off hockey.
“Eight o’clock primetime is going to give the NHL a chance the showcase to the world of how great hockey truly is,” Davison said.