Some people a few years ago were worried about over-saturation. As long as there is only one per year (plus the occasional all -Canadian Heritage Classic), I don't see there being a problem at all. For the fourth consecutive year I, along with my dad, have brought in the new year with an unbelievable hockey game. This year would mark the most bitter rivalry to be shown in the Winter Classic so far. Detroit and Chicago certainly have a long-standing feud, but the two Original Six franchises have a mutual respect for one another. Washington and Pittsburgh absolutely hate each other. That scorn would make for a hard fought, physical game. Captains Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are able to show respect towards each other, but you know deep down inside they are only happy when the other is losing.
This would also be the first time the game would be played at night, as the warm and soggy weather conditions caused it to moved from its original 1:00 PM starting time to 8:00 PM. With the game in prime time, going head to head against college bowl games, including the Granddaddy of them all, The Rose Bowl. The result were some of the best television ratings in a long while. The Winter Classic was conceived in part to grow the game in the United States, an effort that is clearly working. A few years ago nobody paid attention to the sport at all and now it can go head-to-head with with other major sporting events and hold its own weight.
The scene in the stadium was spectacular, the mixture of red and blue in the stands created a wonderful atmosphere. The fans get more and more into this game each year and with the exception of the jackass Caps fan behind me who had no respect for, and little knowledge of, the game at all, I loved the roars and cheers. One of the more interesting aspects came during the national anthem. All the Caps fans shouted in unison the words red during "The rocket's red glare" and O in "O say does that star spangled banner yet wave," regarding the color of their uniforms and their star Ovechkin.They also had a C-A-P-S Caps, Caps Caps chant, an annoying cheer I thought, and hoped, was limited to Jets fans. Countering "Let's go Caps" and "Let's go Pens" chants also echoed throughout Heinz Field all night.
Even though there was no scoring in the 1st period as players got used to the ice conditions, there were fireworks. John Erskine and Mike Rupp set the tone with the second fight in Winter Classic history. Both goalies were tested early and often and each were on their game as Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 12 shots and Washington's Semyon Varlamov was perfect on 16 shots. Jordan Staal, playing in his first game of the season, showed he was in game form, holding off a Caps defenseman and getting a good shot on Varlamov. The wet ice didn't appear to be much of a problem. I watched the puck the entire game, waiting to see if it would slow down or get stuck in a puddle. It never did and despite the rain that came down later in the game, the ice seemed to get better and better as it went on. I felt there should have been a penalty shot awarded to Sidney Crosby when he was hauled down in the slot. The Penguins would have to settle for a power play.
In the 2nd period, it was the other Russian, Evgeni Malkin, who opened the scoring on a breakaway just moments after Ovechkin was denied by Fleury. Former Flyer, and a personal favorite of mine, Mike Knuble tied the game a few minutes later in typical Knuble fashion, jamming in a loose puck in a scramble in the crease. With a little over five minutes to go, Eric Fehr would break the deadlock with his first of the game, capitalizing on Fleury's misplay on a dump-in. The lead after two periods was huge as rules for the game stated it could be called official after two periods if the weather did not hold up.
Despite steady rain falling in the third period, the game was able to be played in full without any problems. Fehr would score again to seal the win for the Caps, sniping a shot over Fleury's glove on a breakaway. The win would mark the third time in four games (four out of five including the Heritage Classic in 2003) the away team has skated away victorious. The 3rd period may have been highlighted by some for the lack of handshakes after the game. I think this was a little over blown though. While this is a major event, it is only a regular season game between two teams with nothing but contempt for each other, and handshakes are a tradition that should be left to the playoffs. All in all, it was another magical New Year's Day.
Pictures of my trip can be found here. There aren't too many of the actual game itself simply because I'd rather watch the game than watch my camera. Here are some other great pics of the game.