Big Lead Sports Bar


The Winter Classic, 24 Hours Later


PENGUINS (21-16-2, 44 pts) 2

SABRES (19-16-3, 41 pts) 1


Well, we're one day removed from the Winter Classic, so it's about time that I wrote something about it. It was only one of the biggest hockey games in league history, at least publicity-wise. And it was clearly the most exciting outdoor hockey game since the climax scene in Mystery, Alaska, when the New York Rangers took on Russell Crowe's team of amateurs. So 24 hours later, now that it's all sunk in, what did the game mean?
For the NHL, the day had to be considered a slam dunk. The overflow crowd, the dramatic, storybook ending, the ratings, the merchandising, and even the players' enjoyment had to go a long way. And that's before I mentioned the WWE-style entrances, the weak TV competition from college football, and the corporate sponsorships. I know I could sure go for a can of AMP!
But in a day filled with Brady Quinn commercials and images of Lance Armstrong managing a Dick's store, Sidney Crosby once again managed to steal the show. The Flawless One even overcame the only visible part of his game that might need work, the shootout, to bring back a shootout victory and two hard-earned points to Pittsburgh. For Penguin fans, it was the perfect way to ring in the New Year.
Overall, the day has been mostly praised, with some level of complaining also being heard. What can you say? Some people just like to complain. ESPN's Scott Burnside falls into that category. He penned a rather feisty column warning the NHL against gathering too much milk from this cash cow in the near future. I don't know, if you can make Buffalo seem interesting in any way, shape, or form, and you can get a positive comment out of Sabres coach and celebrated grump Lindy Ruff at the same time, that seems like quite an accomplishment.
Personally, I was thrilled with the way everything played out. I learned more about ice, ice surfaces, and how to repair ice surfaces than I will ever need to know in one lifetime. But I'd rather they fix the ice than see Sidney skate into a frozen pothole and join the list of Seriously Injured Pittsburgh Athletes (Today's inductees: Max Starks and Clint Kriewaldt).
In a way, the conditions reminded me of the Steelers-Dolphins game on Monday Night Quagmire. The teams were competing more against Mother Nature and Father Turf (or in this case, Uncle Ice) than against each other. But hey, we won in both cases, so you won't hear any complaints out of me.
What will be the long-term benefits of this game? It's not as if this was the kickoff of a new, outdoor hockey league that was the brainchild of Gary Bettman. The NHL got the casual viewer yesterday, but that was an extremely rare event that doesn't resemble most facets of an league game...with the exception of Ed Olczyk, who should be enough of a magnet to draw viewers back week after week, especially when he talks about being fired by the Penguins.
Rather than overanalyze what it meant, we have to enjoy the Winter Classic for what it was: a frosty, unconvential, and memorable day in Pittsburgh sports history. And more importantly, a game that vaulted the Pens within three points of the Devils for 1st place in the Atlantic Division, despite all of their mounting injuries.
Links, links, and even more links:
In-Person Recap [Deadspin]
Bonus Coverage: An in-person recap from Zach in the South Side:
My travels began at approximately 3:30 pm on January 31, 2007 when I finished working, threw my Fleury jersey in the car, picked up a case of IC Light and began trucking away to Buffalo. The ride was long and boring. We skip ahead to around 7pm arriving at the Double Tree in Buffalo that appeared to be part of a hospital (a little strange but nonetheless nice). I was immediately greeted by a group of Pens fans who were staying in the hotel as well. The hotel offered to park my car for $8 at a nearby parking garage. I decided to forgo this expenditure and park the car myself. The garage was about half a block away. On the walk back to the hotel I decided that Buffalo was indeed a very cold city. The wind blew constantly and my face immediately went numb.

At about 8pm I decided it was time to find something to do to celebrate the closing of 2007. So I gave a friend of mine a call that now lives in Buffalo. She told me that she was going to see the “ball drop”. After laughing to myself at her horrendous geography of New York I regained my composure and said to her, “What the hell are you talking about? New York City is 400 miles away.” At this point she laughed at me and said, “I know, but Buffalo has its own ball to drop.” My New Years Eve plans were made.

I went to my friend’s house at about 10 and enjoyed a few adult beverages before heading down to the ball drop. When we arrived at the ball drop I looked up and thought to myself, “Where’s the ball?” But then I saw the little glowing golf ball. Now that’s a little harsh in that it wasn’t all that small, but it was small. On a side note the Buffalonians I attended the ball drop with were very proud of their ball telling me it was the second largest in the United States. I wonder where the largest was.

The ball drop turned out to be a Sabres pep-rally in disguise. I of course wore my Pens gear out and people booed me everywhere I walked. I didn’t really mind it especially because if they were walking the streets of Pittsburgh in a Sabres jersey I know the reception they would receive. At any rate the ball dropped, they had some fireworks, I saw a couple 7th graders make out and then get yelled at by one of the two lovebird’s parents. As I walked back to the car an intoxicated group of Sabres fans told me I sucked so I simply wished them a “Happy New Year” and went on my way. Well this apparently wasn’t the response one of the Sabres fans was looking for as he proceeded to tell me I was a certain part of the female sexual anatomy for wearing a Fleury jersey (this part of a female body may also be called the flower, pun intended). I told him I have no control over Marc-Andre’s ankles and that high ankle sprains are extremely painful. As the man drooled on himself he began making fun of Ty Conklin. I was getting close to my car and was growing tired of this heckling so I just reminded him that Ty shutout the Sabres a few days ago. He yelled something at me but I couldn’t decipher the slurred words so I decided to end the conversation.

I awoke at 8am on January 1st to begin game day preparations. All this really included was making sure I had my case of IC Light and wearing 13 layers of clothing. Normally, I am a much better tailgater but due to the traveling and relatively early game time I decided drinking beer was about all I needed. I went to the game with my girlfriend (who accompanied me on the trip and was responsible for obtaining game tickets, how she did this I care not to know), my friend from Buffalo (who drove us to the game) and a couple of her roommates (who were less than ideal tailgating companions). On the drive in my friend and her roommates said things like “the 90” to refer to a road and over emphasized their A’s (think that lady from The Nanny only slightly less nasally in pronunciation and without that God awful laugh).

The drive to the stadium brings me to my next point. Ralph Wilson Stadium has the worst location ever. It is such an odd place for a professional football team to play its games. First, it’s not in the city. This isn’t a huge shocker but when you finally get to Buffalo it sucks to have to drive 30 minutes to get to the actual venue of the game. Second, Orchard Park is suburbia. When you drive to the game you see nothing but residential areas. Now granted, I didn’t exactly go looking for a bar but I only saw 2 of them and they were small little dive type places. Also, it was strange to see Joe Schmoe standing in his driveway, offering to let you park in his front yard for $15. Then once you get to the stadium, there’s this big barn looking club house thing that is literally labeled “Buffalo Bills Field House”. I couldn’t help but wonder what Paul Posluszny was thinking as he drove up to the stadium after playing in front of 100,000 people per game for four years at a major Big 10 school. I played midget football and was slightly let down when I saw Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The tailgate was pretty good. We ended up parking by a couple of Pens fans and enjoyed some beverages with them as well as some hot dogs that they graciously offered us. The fans of Buffalo really should be commended. They were a pretty classy group of people. I mean of course there were your typical a-holes that you’ll find anywhere but overall they were pretty stand up people. They booed us and told us to go home but a lot of them actually stopped and asked us what we thought of the city and our thoughts on the game. The culmination of goodwill occurred on my walk into the game. As I was walking through the parking lot a group of Sabres fans with a keg were giving me an extremely hard time about being a Pens fan so I naturally walked over to them and began defending my team. After a brief talk they decided to make me prove my worthiness as a Pens fan by doing a keg stand. Now at the time I was probably about 7-8 adult beverages in and didn’t really need anymore beer but I felt like an ambassador of Pittsburgh to Buffalo. My inability to perform a satisfactory keg stand would lead to the demise of the reputation of the city of Pittsburgh. With all this on the line I had my legs hoisted into the air and drank beer for 30 seconds. Satisfaction was met and exceeded.

Once we got into the game I was like a small child wandering into a movie theater for the first time. I was giddy and excited all at once. The rink looked so small to me when it was put on a football field. It was interesting to see the size comparison between the two. The weather was absolutely perfect. It was cold but not too cold. It was snowy but not too snowy. Simply wonderful. As soon as the game started I was pretty nervous thinking about what would happen if the Pens lost. I mean the fans were cool before the game but what would happen if they had a trash talking gun loaded with the ammunition of a Winter Classic victory? My nerves were put at ease less than a minute into the game when Colby Armstrong cleaned up a Sidney Crosby rebound to give the ‘Guiners a 1-0 lead. The rest of the period seemed to drag on forever repairing the ice and running the zamboni 36 times during the period. A few developing storylines at this point in the game: One, I start to despise the “Let’s go Buffalo” chant. The name of the city is far too long to be included in a chant. I don’t care if it rhymes with the word “go” or not. I started thinking about alternative chants but really had nothing. Sabres doesn’t shorten very well and isn’t good in any saying that is repeated. Two, some Sabres fan behind me decides that Crosby living with Lemieux is a little known fact and tells anyone that will listen about it. I (as well as Sabres fans) was unimpressed by this man’s vast knowledge of Crosby’s living arrangements.

The second period begins and it is apparent the Penguins started hitting the sauce during the intermission to warm up and felt like taking a nap during the game. As expected, the Sabres quickly tie the game and my nerves all come back to me. The period continues and I start to feel like the Pens are in over their heads. At one point I was rooting for the Pens to take a shot let alone score a goal. The guy behind me who has intimate knowledge of Sid’s living arrangements starts talking about how Mrs. Lemieux tucks him in at night and tells him bed time stories. Sabres fans everywhere are starting to chirp. Things are looking bleak. As the second period came to a close I decided a trip to the men’s room was necessary. While urinating some guy asked me if I was wearing a Theo Fleury jersey and proceeded to tell me I suck.

As I took my seat for the third period I saw a couple of Pens fans fighting with each other about sitting or standing during the game. The guys who were closer to the ice were standing (to see over the guys standing in front of them) and a guy three rows back couldn’t see because of them. Here’s the deal. Guy who was doing the bitching I hope you read this. You were wrong. It’s a rough environment as it is and you were yelling at your own fans. You should be ashamed of yourself. Also, you were wearing a stupid New Year’s hat. You looked like a woman. Stand and support your team. Anyways… The third period was better but in all play still seemed to be dictated by the Sabres. I was praying for a shootout. I didn’t like our chances in overtime because Buffalo seemed to be putting so much pressure on the Pens. Well regulation ended with a Colby Armstrong penalty. My heart sunk. A 4-on-3 powerplay seemed certain to end the Penguins. I watched the first two minutes of the overtime with a sense of impending doom. The Sabres kept tightening their powerplay umbrella on the Penguins’ net and the end seemed to be in sight. But when all seemed lost the penalty expired and a sense of hope warmed my mildly frostbitten body. I still didn’t like our chances in overtime but getting to a shootout seemed all the more likely. As the horn blew to end overtime a part of me felt like the game was in the bag.

Conklin getting beat on the first shot of the overtime quickly brought me back to reality. If that wasn’t enough watching Erik Christensen fail to register a shot on his attempt made me sick. But then things turned. A small beam of light shined down on Ralph Wilson Stadium. Kris Letang remained perfect on his shootout record. Then Conklin made a pair stellar saves. The stage was set for Sidney Crosby. The guy behind me yelled down that Mrs. Lemieux couldn’t help Sid now. The whole stadium was chanting “Let’s go Buffalo”. But then there was silence. Crosby deposited the puck in the back of the net and there was no more “Let’s go Buffalo”. I turned to the guy behind me a told him that was his goodnight story. Then I told him Sid will kiss Mrs. Lemieux goodnight for him.

I walked out of the stadium high-fiving anyone that was wearing Penguins apparel. The parking lot was a traffic nightmare so we proceeded to drink a few more IC Lights before returning back to the city. After a few cold ones we were still nowhere near moving so we went to a Subway that was part of a gas station. There was a Sabres fan puking blood on the curb no doubt because of the disgusting fashion in which the Sabres lost (o.k. so it was probably more alcohol induced). After enjoying a spicy Italian sub and listening to the guys in the booth behind me speak French it was time to conclude our day’s journey.

The half hour drive back to Buffalo was uneventful as was the rest of my trip. I went to bed that night dreaming of Penguins’ goals and disappointed Buffalo fans. The Winter Classic lived up to the hype and made Pens fans everywhere very happy. Let’s hope the rest of the season continues to make Pens fans happy.

1 comment:

Chris said...

the game was pretty cool. Hockey needed this and should keep doing it. It really is a good sport, people need to just give it a chance. Also, you gotta love those throwback uni's the pens had on.