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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Goaltender Ryan Miller
For the NHL, the 2008 AMP Energy Winter Classic will make history as the first outdoor game played in the United States during the regular season.

But for one Buffalo Sabres player, it will be deja-vu.

As part of the Michigan State hockey team in 2001, goaltender Ryan Miller led the Spartans to a 3-3 tie against arch rival, the University of Michigan Wolverines, in the "Cold War" game in Miller's hometown of East Lansing, M.I.

Photo: Winter Classic Press Conf.
News: Winter Classic Tickets Sold Out
News: History of Outdoor Games

The atmosphere of the "Cold War" is something that Miller has never forgotten, and although it will be his second appearance at an outdoor game, he said the excitement is just as high for the Sabres New Year's Day contest against the Penguins.

"I always wondered why the football players got so pumped up after one play when they have to go right back and start another series," Miller said. "You kind of understand with just that many people out there and the energy it creates and the buildup towards the game."

It is easy to see why.

While HSBC Arena's maximum capacity is 18,690 for Sabres' games, Spartan Stadium held 74,554 fans at the event Oct. 6, 2001.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman anticipates that the Winter Classic will have a similar, if not bigger, crowd in attendance with more than 73,000 seats available at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

In addition to the amount of fans, the Michigan native added there were a few other factors that made the game explosive.

"When we came out Michigan State actually had these huge pyrotechnics set up so when we entered the ice or when we scored, these huge fireballs would launch up," he said. "Michigan and Michigan State is a huge rivalry so we had a lot of fun with that."

The game was appropriately named the "Cold War" because of the history the schools share. Because of the proximity and because the teams are both in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, a rivalry stands similar to that of the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The cold weather, however, is a concern- specifically for the ice conditions. Bettman said the ideal situation would be temperature around 25 degrees Fahrenheit and overcast. Extreme cold or heat could affect the rink.

Yet contrary to belief that the quality of the ice would suffer at an outdoor hockey game, Miller said the "Cold War" presented ice that was "some of the best we've ever had."

"I think the weather could just be a part of the game," he said. "Both teams are going to have to play with it. The only thing that could go wrong is if [the weather] pulls what it did last year. Sometimes in January around here it sneaks up to like 60 degrees on some fluke."

It is not the only factor that could make the game potentially more difficult for players.

Because there is no protection of a dome that an indoor game would provide, the sun and stadium lighting could cause obstacles that may be unfamiliar to players.

"Michigan State stadium isn't the place to play a night game," Miller said. "They had to do a special lighting situation that didn't really accommodate hockey with the glare. I think you saw a lot of guys with a little bit of the...eye black. I threw some of that on just because honestly it's about a 20-foot glare coming off some of the lights. So it threw a lot of shadows."

"You play with the elements.  In the last game at Michigan State, I got off the ice after the game and I was red in the face wind-burned and my toes were frozen. I'm hoping that I've learned a little bit and I'll make some adjustments and figure out how to stay warm."

Regardless of the things that may, or may not, prove to interfere with the game, the opportunity to showcase hockey on a national level appeared to be reason enough to become excited for New Year's Day.

"To get that much hype and that much excitement around the game and to celebrate the sport the way football [does]... I think hockey deserves something like that. I think that if we had more opportunities like this people would appreciate the game more nationally and I think this is a great venue for it," Miller said

"I'm just sorry I'm going to miss the tail-gate party."
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