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The Official Site of the Buffalo Sabres


by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
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On Jan. 1, 2008, a tradition was born in Buffalo, NY.

In addition to being first regular season, outdoor game played in the United States, there were far more 'firsts' set in the original Winter Classic- as well memories for the 71,000 fans in attendance.

So as the League puts the finishing touches on Fenway in Boston, wanted to revisit the 10 best memories of the inaugural game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, and take a look back at the transformation of The Ralph:

THE FINALE: While the outcome may not have been ideal, a showdown between arguably the NHL’s most elite scorer and goaltender certainly was for the NHL. Sidney Crosby may have beat Ryan Miller to claim a 2-1 shootout win, a less than perfect end for the home crowd, but the energy at the stadium prior to the shot was something most fans will never forget.

THE BLIZZARD: What could have been better in the inaugural Winter Classic than a steady snow fall to cap the atmosphere? The “snow globe-like image” as recalls took everyone back to the days of pond hockey and certainly made for a picturesque scene.

THE OPENING: Bagpipes, a military fly over and Irish tenor Ronan Tynan’s rendition of God Bless America kicked off the event, complete with pyrotechnics and a uhh, ‘decent-sized’ crowd.

The Sabres and Penguins throwback jerseys continue to be a popular item, and inevitably helped seal the vintage feel that the NHL was looking for. Add to that some old school jackets for the coaching staff and sock-hat on top of Miller’s helmet and you’ve got a classic look.

THE TAILGATE: If there is one thing Buffalo is known for – besides the wings – it may be the pregame party. The tradition, typically held to NFL / Bills games for the fans of Buffalo, made a seamless transition to hockey. Live entertainment, ice sculptures, Winter Classic gear and, of course, plenty of food, highlighted the festivities as the fans awaited opening faceoff.

THE POND: While most of the attention went to the full-size rink at Ralph Wilson Stadium, there was an adjacent ice surface that held a high rank in the minds of a lot of fans – especially the younger ones. To reinforce the nostalgia of playing outdoors, the NHL created the smaller rink allowing children from Hasek’s Heroes to skate next to the pros.

THE SELLOUT: Sabres and Penguins fans ate up tickets for the event in well under an hour after the event went on sale – and needless to say, it lived up to the hype. The crowd was, well, epic in a word and perhaps the single greatest piece of the atmosphere at the stadium.

As big as the hype was for the game, so was the preparation. From the initial construction of the rink – that had its share of obstacles – to the finer details including equipment that completed the look, the Winter Classic rink was an enormous undertaking. And let’s not forget about the ad campaign - courtesy of Ryan Miller.

THE PRACTICE: One of the best moments, and perhaps the lesser-known, was the first time that the Sabres took to the ice the day before the game. The look on the players’ faces as they walked through the tunnel, with virtually no one in the stadium, was one of awe and appreciation. It may have been, for many of them, one of the most unforgettable parts of the event. The practice did get a bit more playful, however, as Brian Campbell took the ice. As the team’s captain for the month of December, Soupy was the first one to step on the ice – and nearly face plant in the process.

THE HISTORY: The precedence set at the game on New Year’s Day in 2008 will undoubtedly live on as one of the greatest sporting events to take place in the city of Buffalo. In addition to a laundry list of ‘firsts,’ the inaugural Winter Classic left with it, a legacy. It also came full circle last winter when a piece of got to stay, as a permanent fixture, where it all began.


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