Tag Archive: Winter Classic


After having a few days to reflect on the 2011 Winter Classic and read others praises and criticism, I wanted to post a wrap up of my own. Aside from my own personal adventures below, this post addresses some of the things that I have heard since the event.

*Media outlets across the country have criticized Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau for saying that the game was the biggest thing next to winning a Stanley Cup. I am not sure many people, particularly fans of the winning team, who were there would disagree. Sure it was just a “regular season” game, but the atmosphere was so much more. Over 68,000 fans, including a LOT of people wearing the red and white were there to witness the late night spectacle. Especially when you come from a state where teams struggle to fill a regular hockey arena, to see a stadium brimming with fans who had come together, but were so divided, the night was truly magical. Even a Stanley Cup playoff game is going to have maximum in the neighborhood of 20,000 fans…there were over 3 TIMES that at the Winter Classic. It was huge.

*The quality of the ice was extremely poor. I felt like the temperature when the game started was actually perfect. Of course, the rain during the second and third periods was not ideal, but to see all of those people sitting in it really showed how dedicated the fans were to this event. I also heard that the television broadcast seemed to pretend the rain did not exist. I think this certainly could have been played up. The Winter Classic is about returning to the roots of the sport – celebrating the backyard pickup game on the pond. It seems that with the glitz of the NHL, many have forgotten that this game started out with less than perfect ice conditions. I’m pretty sure Ovechkin did not have a Zamboni hiding out in the garage of his backyard in Russia. The NHL is supposed to be the most skilled players of this sport. Sure the ice might have posed additional challenges, but these players are the best, they should be able to adapt to conditions. Also, the NHL tried to keep it fair, giving each team equal time on both ends of the ice. I was told that the viewers at home did not really see the switch in the third period.

*Camera angles on television were less than ideal. Having not yet seen the television broadcast, I cannot comment on this except to say that this game is held once a year. It is not like the camera guys have experience with this or a chance to practice. Also, the game time was moved on Friday. There was not a ton of time to make adjustments to accommodate glare or weather/ice conditions. I am sure there were lessons learned and things that could be improved, but a comment to me after the game was made by a friend that really hit home. This friend plays minor league soccer; he is not a hockey fan per se and he told me that he was watching the game on television and couldn’t imagine how great it must be to be there. This is what the Winter Classic should be all about – introducing new fans to the sport. Sure the Stanley Cup playoffs might be the true highlight of the sport’s premier games, but during that time the league is competing with NBA Finals for viewership. The Winter Classic has less competition, typically matching up only with college bowl games and other NHL games. I do think it would be in the league’s best interest, however, not to schedule any other games on New Year’s Day, so as to avoid potential conflicts.

*The Ovechkin/Crosby matchup and the Penguins/Capitals rivalry were overplayed.  As a Capitals fan, I know how bitter the rivalry between the two teams is first hand. While it is true that neither Ovechkin nor Crosby scored a point in this matchup, there is no denying the amazing accomplishments of both and how strangely parallel their careers are. Both players suited up in the NHL for the first time the same year, both have already had storied careers, and both of their teams are better when they are on the ice. I’m sure a lot of people were tired of hearing about the two players and I agree that the media could have focused on some other stories, but I think in some cases, they did a good job of promotion. In particular, the HBO special 24/7 covering both teams road to the Winter Classic was extremely well-produced and showcased some unlikely members of the team. For example, showing the recalling and sending back down of AHL players gave viewers a peek into the life of a prospect in these systems and interviewing Matt Hendricks up close after a nasty black eye, complete with stiches really demonstrated the toughness of some of these players.

*There are some that said this should be a day game and the NHL should have moved it to Sunday. I disagree. I think the game played under the lights was truly something special. It kind of gave me the feeling of being a kid and playing outside up until the very last possible minute, even though your parents were telling you it was time to come inside. It was like just that one time when they allowed you to stay out just a little past your bedtime because you were having so much fun. The Super Bowl is played at night and I think this is kind of the atmosphere that was present at Heinz Field. Also this was great since New Year’s Eve was the night before. So many revelers were out late and the 8 pm start time on Saturday allowed them to sleep in, enjoy brunch and then start tailgating in the afternoon. The build up to the event was just the right amount.

I hope the NHL continues to do the Winter Classic for years to come. I also hope that they do rotate the teams that are playing, regardless of home location so that everyone, both players and fans get the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful experience. And I hope they continue to play the game under the lights of the stadium. I know I will be there.

I flew from Austin, Texas to Baltimore, Maryland on December 28, 2010 for what promised to be an epic hockey trip. The trip was my first return to the DC metro area since relocating back to Austin earlier in the year. Over the course of 7 days, I would be attending four hockey games, including the 2011 Winter Classic, a matchup between the Washington Capitals and their most hated rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In preparation for the trip, I had been watching the weather predictions like a hawk and things weren’t looking good. The latest forecast called for temperatures in the 50s and a high probability of rain. When I boarded the plane at Austin Bergstrom early Tuesday morning all I hoped was that they would not cancel the game.

My journey began with a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs between the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. Even without Jaroslav Halak, the goalie that stymied the Capitals last spring, the Canadiens posed a challenge for the boys at Verizon Center. Walking into the arena, memories came flooding back from the city that made me fall in love with hockey. While I’d been a casual Dallas Stars fan for years, it was not until I lived in DC that I developed a real passion for the sport. From even before the first notes of the national anthem, I scanned the crowd and saw a sea of red. Fans did not wait until the puck dropped at Verizon Center to show up, many of them were there early to catch warmups set to the tune of celebrity DJ Brett Leonhart’s soundtrack. It was great to be a part of the crowd again, cheering, “Let’s go Caps” along with the Horn Guy and Loud Goat. And yes, even screaming “Red” during the national anthem rather than “Stars.”

The game definitely delivered the excitement that was promised, with the Capitals shutting out the Habs 3-0. Varlamov earned the start in net for the home team and was sharp throughout the game. I got to connect with some great Caps fans I’d been chatting with via Twitter leading up to my trip and it was nice to be back in my second home for a little while. On Wednesday, I was able to pick up some gifts for friends back home in Texas at Kettler, including a Winter Classic jersey for myself. However, I struggled with how to customize the jersey, not really knowing who would be in net for the Capitals. The staff at KCI was so helpful and friendly and I even managed to run into someone that has followed me on Twitter since the Calder Cup finals last year. It really is a small world sometimes.

On Thursday we hit the road to Pittsburgh for an afternoon hockey double-header, first seeing a college game with RIT and Robert Morris College. My friend Chris is an RIT alum and was excited to see his boys in brown and orange take the victory. In addition, he was able to get some help from the RIT hockey team with “Project Vicarious Major,” an effort for a college fraternity buddy that is currently serving in Iraq. The whole hockey team posed with a photo of his friend Bill Bernhard in their locker room after the game.

Following the college matchup, the reigning Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears took on their rival, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. In a true goalie battle, the Bears earned the two points in the standings with a shutout at the hands of netminder Braden Holtby. The final score at Consol was 1-0 Bears over the Pens. As an added bonus, I was able to say hi to a couple of people I met during the AHL playoffs last year and the staff at Consol was quite helpful in making that happen. In case they had any doubt, I will say that the Hershey Bears are lucky to have John Walton as their play-by-play guy and it is fascinating to watch him call a game – one of the best in the business.

The next day was New Year’s Eve and it certainly turned out be one of the most special ones I’ve had in a few years. Honestly I’ve never put a lot of stock in ringing in the New Year, but this year was different. With the help of a few DC media people and the friends I travelled with, I managed to find a nice crowd on the Southside of Pittsburgh. Early we cheered on Team USA in the World Juniors as they cruised to a 2-1 victory over the Swiss. Goalie of the future for the Dallas Stars, Jack Campbell played an excellent game again and made some remarkable saves during the third to keep Team USA in the game. The chant of “Freedom” and cheers rang throughout the bar as USA scored the game winner.

Also throughout the night, Capitals fans made their presence known in the ‘Burgh, starting up chants of “C-A-P-S Caps, Caps, Caps!!” While a few Penguins fans at Smokey Joe’s answered back with “Let’s go Pens,” the visitors actually outnumbered the home team at several establishments. A funny moment of the night came when someone started a chant that all the patrons could agree with, “Flyers Suck!!” We rang in the New Year with friends, both old and new and somehow managed to finally make it back to our hotel room in the wee hours after midnight. Let’s just say I’m pretty sure I was not the only person that was happy that the game was pushed back to an 8 pm start time!

On Saturday, we continued to check the weather report and finally decided on what would be the appropriate layers for the first Winter Classic ever to be played under the lights of a football stadium. Walking over to Heinz Field, there was a buzz for blocks – fans chanting back and forth; vendors hawking t-shirts and other team gear; tailgaters wrapping up the party for the walk to the stadium. Heading into Heinz it was absolutely electric. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events in my life and this game to me truly had the feeling of something a lot bigger than a regular season game.

Although Evengi Malkin scored the first goal for the Penguins, the rest of the game was somewhat dominated by the Capitals, led by unlikely hero Eric Fehr. F16 notched two goals for the Caps coming off the bench after being scratched in the team’s two previous games. Once the Capitals scored their first, there was really a momentum shift. I felt like Marc Andre Fleury got extremely lucky as his team really kept a few pucks from going in, despite him being tangled up out of position several times. A missed attempt by Caps Jason Chimera at an open net also kept the Penguins close. I was not able to see a close up of the Penguins goal that was called back, but the fans behind us sure thought it was a bogus call. Ovechkin also had a goal called back for the Capitals later in the game.

At the end of the day, despite the cold rain that drizzled down for much of the latter part of the game, we all left beaming from ear to ear. Just could not wipe the grin off my face…and it stayed there for days. Even now, a week later, all someone has to do is mention the Winter Classic and I get all giddy. Also, kudos to both the Capitals and the Penguins organizations as well for agreeing to give us all a sneak peek into the preparations through the HBO special 24/7 – absolutely amazing work by HBO to chronicle this experience. Excellent soundtrack and narrative – I definitely teared up watching the final episode. It truly was one of the greatest weekends of my life. In addition, I’m glad my first Winter Classic was to see a team that I love so much. I’m so fortunate that I have great friends that invited me to go and also made the trip fun.