Share This Page

Penguins excited about playing outdoors

MONTREAL - Awesome. Exciting. Pretty cool.

Those were words some Penguins players used to describe a chance to play outside.

Let it snow• Not quite.

The NHL's worst-kept secret was revealed Monday when the league officially announced an outdoor game between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 1, 2008, at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Many of the Penguins' players who figure to play in the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic -- considerably fewer than the 41 who made the trip to Montreal for two exhibition games -- will get a rare chance to recapture their youth on New Year's Day.

"We missed out on a lot of that stuff because we played (organized hockey)," right wing Colby Armstrong said. "But when we were kids, we played on outdoor rinks all the time. This will be fun."

Armstrong shared the sentiment of most teammates when he said ice conditions will not be a concern. The outdoor game will be held at a stadium used by the NFL's Bills. An artificial rink will be constructed days before the game, and both participating teams will get a chance to practice on it the day before the event.

Staying warm on what could be a cold afternoon will be players' great concern, said Penguins right wing Petr Sykora. He participated in several outdoor exhibition games in Switzerland while with Russian Elite League club Magnitogorsk during the NHL lockout season in 2004-05.

"I had a sore throat for about three weeks later, and I was wearing a couple of turtlenecks," Sykora said. "It was really cold -- minus-7 or something crazy. It was a manufactured rink. It had a roof, but there were no walls, and it started snowing. The wind was blowing, so you were skating into the wind.

"You did not really think about (the weather conditions), though. You went through the same routine. It did not bother me at all."

According to the National Weather Service, last January was among the mildest in Buffalo's recent history -- with New Year's Day temperatures in the 50s. However, history shows that the turn of a new year in western New York is often accompanied by blistering winds and sizeable snowfalls.

"I know all too well that the weather in Buffalo that time of year is unpredictable," said defenseman Brooks Orpik, whose parents live in Buffalo. "It could be warm, or there could be three feet of snow."

The NHL has not staged an outdoor game since the Heritage Classic on Nov. 22, 2003 -- a game in Edmonton between the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens that was played in front of 57,167.

Right wing Georges Laraque was part of the Oilers squad that frigid day. He described that outdoor game as "almost comical."

"It was totally different, it was so cold," Laraque said. "Guys did not hit. They could not make moves. Eventually everybody was just dumping the puck. It was too cold. And some guys were wearing (caps) under their helmets. They almost could not see.

"But mostly it was awesome to be part of."

The Heritage Classic went largely ignored in the United States, where it was not televised live. NBC will air the NHL Winter Classic, banking that the uniqueness of the event and the draw of Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby will be enough to lure viewers.

Finding fans to fill Ralph Wilson Stadium's 73,000-plus seats should not be a problem.

"I think they will come close to selling it out," Orpik said. "The Sabres have a great fan base. You get into that area of the country, and it is pretty evident that Sabres fans cannot get enough of their team, so I am sure there will be a lot of people in that stadium.

"And, it is not that far of a drive from Pittsburgh, so I am sure there will be a lot of our fans, too."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.