The NHL’s Winter Classic 2008 is finally upon us, and we have compiled the following information as a primer to get you Amped up for the event!
In the 90-year history of the NHL, only 1 regular season game has ever been played outdoors. That game, dubbed the Heritage Classic, was played in Edmonton on November 23rd, 2003, and featured a north of the border matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers. It commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Edmonton Oilers joining the NHL in 1979. The Heritage Classic was inspired by a 2001 outdoor game between two college rivals, Michigan State and the University of Michigan, that became dubbed the “Cold War”. The Cold War was such a success that 74,554 spectators crammed into Michigan State’s Spartan Stadium and smashed the world attendance record for hockey. Just 2 years later, the Heritage Classic was played in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium in a bitingly cold -18ºF with an attendance of 57,167, the largest number of people to ever watch a live NHL game. The Canadiens ended up winning the game by a score of 4-3 . While the Heritage Classic was the first NHL regular season game to be played outdoors, it wasn’t the first NHL game to be played outdoors. That honor belongs to an exhibition game in 1991 between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers that was played outside of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
With the groundwork laid by the Cold War and the Heritage Classic, the NHL decided in the summer of 2007 to stage the 2nd outdoor regular season game on New Year’s Day, and dubbed it the Winter Classic 2008. They selected two fast skating, talented young teams for the matchup, the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium was selected as the Venue for the event, marking the NHL’s first outdoor regular season game to be played in the United States. Buffalo’s proximity to the Canadian border only increased its appeal to the NHL. With over 70,000 fans expected, it could come close to the world hockey attendance record set by the Cold War event.
The weather promises to cooperate and will make this event interesting. Monday’s overnight forecast calls for a 90% chance of precipitation, starting out as light rain and changing over to all snow by late morning on New Year’s Day. Temperatures overnight will fall to 31º, and will peak at 36º on New Year’s day. Winds flowing ENE will eventually shift to NNW and increase to 20-30 mph with occassional gusts of 40 mph. Snow accumulations of 2-4 inches are expected. Dan Craig, the NHL’s Facility Operations Manager, indicates that the winds aren’t really going to affect the rink because they put cable up on the tall glass to hold everything in place securely. As for the snow, the NHL will use Zambonis and shovels to keep the ice surface clean prior to the game, and will monitor conditions within the periods and act accordingly.
Being a regular season NHL game, all of the normal NHL rules will apply. However, to ensure that neither team is aided or adversely affected by the variabilities introduced by playing outdoors, some unique and noticeable changes will be incorporated. First, to equalize number of minutes each team has attacking or defending each goal, the 3rd period will be broken into two 10-minute segments. At the end of the first 10-minute segment, the teams will switch ends as if it were a period break. The whistle will be blown and the play stopped at the 10-minute mark of the 3rd, regardless of any on-going play on the ice. Second, and along the same lines, if a 5-minute overtime period is required, it will also be divided in half with the teams switching ends after 2:30 of play. Lastly, should the game go all the way to a shootout, each goaltender will be given the option of determining which goal to defend, making it possible for both teams to shoot at the same goal. Another potential change that would be decided in real time could be the length of intermissions between periods, or timeouts within periods. This will be dictated by weather and ice conditions, as determined by the NHL.
The Pittsburgh Penguins (20-16-2) come into the game playing very well, having gone 12-5-0 in their last 17-games after a slow season start. Coming off a win against the Sabres in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the Penguins currently hold 7th place in the Eastern Conference with 42-points. The Penguins will be without the services of forward Gary Roberts (broken leg), forward Max Talbot (ankle), defenseman Marc Eaton (torn ACL), and starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (ankle). While the Penguins have been struggling with lineup injuries through much of December, this will be the first game they play without veteran leader Gary Roberts, who broke his leg in Saturday’s tilt against Buffalo. Petr Sykora, who was out sick on Saturday, is expected to return, along with Ryan Malone who played his first game on Saturday after missing 5 with a leg infection. Third string goaltender Ty Conklin is expected to get rewarded with the start in net for the Penguins after posting a shutout against the Sabres on Saturday night. Conklin is 4-0 in his brief stint with the Penguins.
The Buffalo Sabres (19-16-2) have gone 6-3-1 in their last 10-games, including Saturday night’s loss to the Penguins. Currently in 8th place in the Eastern Conference standings with 40-points, the Sabres have a game in hand against the Penguins. The Sabres will be without the services of forward Drew Stafford who is day-to-day with a concussion. Other than that, the Sabres appear to be very healthy.
Going head to head, these teams are pretty evenly matched. They both favor a fast, open, offensive style of play as was witnessed on Saturday night. The Sabres have the advantage in goals per game at 3.1 versus 2.7 for the Penguins. The teams are nearly equivalent in goals given up per game, with 2.8 for the Sabres versus 2.9 for the Pens. On the power play, the teams are in a statistical lock with the Penguins at 18.9 percent effectiveness versus 18.8 for the Sabres. The Sabres have the advantage on the penalty kill with an 83.6 percent effectiveness versus the Penguins 80.0.
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Both teams practiced on the outdoor rink today, and from all accounts the rink got a big thumbs up. The Penguins didn’t hit the ice until 3PM after traveling up from Pittsburgh this morning. Coach Therrien gave the Penguins a day off on Sunday so that they could get some rest before the game.
Both teams will be wearing retro-looking uniforms for the game. The Sabres will sport uniforms similar to the ones they wore in the 1980s. The Penguins will be wearing the original powder blue, navy blue and white color scheme the team first used when it entered the NHL 40-years ago in 1967.
Coverage starts on NHL.com at 11AM with live coverage starting at 1PM on NBC and CBC on New Year’s Day. Both the American and Canadian National Anthems will be sung prior to the start of the game. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan will perform “God Bless America” and Sabres singer Doug Allen will sing the Canadian National Anthem. Weather permitting, there will also be a flyover.