Even though Pittsburgh played in the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008, 16 Penguins on the 2010-11 squad have yet to play an NHL game outdoors.
“It’s going to be special,” Pascal Dupuis
said. “It’s where we pretty much all started playing hockey – outdoors, on the pond, freezing our toes and our hands.”
Dupuis just missed the first outdoor game, as he was traded to the Penguins from Atlanta on Feb. 28, 2008, just two months after the Penguins’ epic 2-1 shootout win in Buffalo on New Year’s Day.
He admits that he was a little bummed about missing out, but he’s excited for another chance.
“The whole atmosphere, with the big football stadium and so many fans, will be a big event,” Dupuis said. “It makes it pretty special.”
Mark Letestu was playing for the Penguins’ top minor-league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of the first Winter Classic, and he, too, feels grateful for a chance to participate in such an event.
“I am really, really excited,” Letestu said. “I’ve been talking to the guys who have gone through it before, and they all really cherished the experience.
“I’m excited for the atmosphere. I’ve never been to Heinz Field, so it’s going to be neat to experience that atmosphere. Sixty thousand people – that’s a crazy amount of people.”
Letestu vividly remembers watching the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium three years ago.
“I thought, ‘How are they playing on that?’” he said. “The ice looked like it was terrible with the snow, but it was pretty neat to see. It probably couldn’t have been any better with the snow falling. It looked like a pond hockey game. It was probably tough to play on, but I guess Mother Nature helped out and painted a pretty picture for that game.”
He never thought he would ever get the chance to play in a Winter Classic.
“I don’t even know if I thought I’d be playing in the NHL,” he joked. “So the fact that I’m here and that this is taking place in the year that I’m here feels pretty special.”Paul Martin
was playing for New Jersey at the time, and – like most of the 16 players who missed out in 2008 – he never expected to play in a stadium.
“It will definitely be a lot of fun,” Martin said. “It’s still a game that we have to get two points out of and (Washington) is definitely a tough team. For everyone else, it’s more of just a spectacle and a big event. But for us, we have to make sure we’re ready to play.”
He also cherishes the “pond hockey” feel of the whole event.
“Growing up in Minnesota, that’s all we do, whether it be on the ponds or outdoor rinks,” Martin said. “It’s going to bring back good memories.”
The players don’t seemed too concerned about the weather, as playing in front of 60,000 fans should get the adrenaline pumping enough to deal with anything that Mother Nature sends their way.
“I hope it doesn’t rain or snow too much before,” Martin said. “But maybe a little snow while the game is going on. Hopefully we have a nice sheet of ice.”
Letestu isn’t worried so much about the ice.
“I’m hoping for snow,” he said. “If the ice is bad, it doesn’t matter.”