Rossi on the Road: A Classic story from the Penguins' first outdoors experience
Anyone who attended the first Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2008 in snowy suburban Buffalo would probably agree with former Penguins coach Michel Therrien's take.
"It turned out to be a great memory," he said.
It is a memory with a classic story, one Therrien barely could describe recently in between stops of hearty laughter.
The Penguins had gathered at the old Pittsburgh airport around 11 a.m. Dec. 31, 2007. Their Buffalo practice, their lone chance to test the outdoor rink before playing a regular-season game on it the next day, was to start at 4 p.m.
The chartered flight was set to leave at noon. Therrien, as was his custom, was one of the last people to board. Upon doing so, he found his usual seat near the front and took a nap. He awoke an hour later expecting to be in Buffalo.
"We were still in Pittsburgh," he said. "I could not believe it. I looked at everybody and screamed, 'Why aren't we there!' They told me there was an engine problem.
"I could not believe it."
With coaches, players and team officials having driven to the old airport to catch the charter, someone suggested everybody drive their vehicles to Buffalo.
"We thought, 'Hey, it is just about three hours, so we can make it if we leave now,' " Therrien said. "All the coaches could drive. We asked for volunteers. Not everybody liked the idea, but what else could we do• We had to practice outside before we played on that rink."
By about 1:30 p.m. the proposal was a moot point. The plane was functioning, and the Penguins landed in Buffalo with time to spare before practice.
"We walked down that stadium tunnel and saw the field, and it was, 'Wow, what a sight!' " Therrien said. "You realized at that point this was a special thing, and we were really glad to be there.
"I mean really glad."
Do you remember?
Jan. 1, 2008
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Penguins 2, Buffalo Sabres 1 (SO)
Snow was falling from the sky so fast that Sidney Crosby was afraid he wouldn't be able to see the puck. Crosby is good, but maybe not that good.
More than 71,000 fans shivering inside Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., couldn't take their eyes off him.
The first Winter Classic was tied, 1-1, after regulation and nothing had been decided through a five-minute overtime and 2 1⁄2 rounds of a shootout.
Until Crosby, still a year shy of his 21st birthday, put the puck on his stick and skated purposefully toward Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. Crosby eluded Miller's poke check and fired, finding a sliver of light between the goalie's pads that led to the back of the net.
Instantly, hockey fans had the first defining moment of Crosby's career.
"It was in front of a big crowd, a big TV audience," teammate Max Talbot said. "So, it was like, 'OK, he's meant for these special occasions.' "