Did anyone watch this game ?? It was great and they are talking about more of them. I remember with I was young playing outside and it was great. I like to see a fe more of these but I wonder if the novelty will wear off after a few frozen toes, and knowing that an indoor statium is available ?
|ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As the Buffalo Sabres whirled around the new ice at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Friday, coach Lindy Ruff looked up, saw the snow wafting through the air and the smiles on his players' faces, and decided to chuck the remaining drills he'd had planned. "Halfway through practice, I looked at our practice sheet and I said, 'We got to get rid of our last couple of drills and just let them scrimmage, get back to playing a little pond hockey for 10 minutes,'" Ruff said.
"Let them enjoy it," Ruff added. "Don't worry about the structure of the practice and somebody gives the puck away, let's just let them play. It felt like the right thing to do. They were having a great time with it." Instead of taking part in the usual practice drills, the Sabres played a scrimmage during their first and only practice Monday inside Ralph Wilson Stadium. Hockey players are creatures are habit. Many are obsessive about the rituals they follow in preparing for games. Routes to the rink, dressing room habits, even the manner in which they dress for games.
But when you're about to play outdoors on a sheet of ice plunked in the middle of an NFL stadium in front of 73,000 fans, all of those routines are thrown out the window. Yet, when the Sabres and their opponents, the Pittsburgh Penguins, exited the ice Monday after their one and only outdoor practice before Tuesday afternoon's Winter Classic, there was a palpable sense of excitement that ran through both dressing rooms. "Yes, we are, as players, creatures of habit," Ruff said. "But to get out of the routine for a game like this, I'm just telling you, it was just so cool to be out there. I thought it was unbelievable and I'm not even playing.
"For them, I think it's the thrill of a lifetime to play a game like this. You really felt like you could have stayed out there a couple of hours, one of those [situations] where you scrimmage all day long. You could see it in the players' faces. You guys even looked cheerful out there," Ruff told reporters.
Tuesday's forecast calls for some snow, which might create some unscheduled game delays to scrape the ice, but nothing more serious than that. If the weather holds and the NHL's second regular-season outdoor game goes off as planned, it will undoubtedly spawn. But in discussing these events, the players' willingness to take part is often underplayed. The bottom line is that games like the 2003 Heritage Classic and Winter Classic will only succeed as long as players are prepared to forgo the comfort of their normal routines and embrace the concept, not just buy into it.
That's exactly what happened during Monday's practice sessions. Whether they grew up in Rokycany in the Czech Republic or Moscow or Anchorage, Alaska, or Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, players found themselves stepping onto the ice and traveling back in time to their own experiences as young men playing the game.
That undeniable link between those memories and this moment are not just dreamt up by some ad executive, but are at the heart of the grins the players carried off the ice Monday. "We've all played outside at some point and had a great time doing it," Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby said. "I think it brings you back a bit when you're out there. You know, someone said it before, it is a big stage. You know, it's a big game. It's a regular-season game. But, at the same time, you don't get this chance very often, so you want to enjoy it." Teammate Jordan Staal is one of three Staal brothers now playing in the NHL. Growing up in the Northern Ontario community of Thunder Bay, the Staals spent many hours on the homemade rink their father built on the family's sod farm.
"Played a lot of hockey out there with my brothers and stuff like that in minus-40 temps and the wind chill making it minus-50. It's pretty crazy," Staal said. "But we just enjoyed the game so much and it's kind of that same feeling out there today." Erik Christensen grew up half a country away in Edmonton, Alberta, yet his memories chart a similar course. Christensen's birthday is Dec. 17, and that was usually around the time the backyard rink went in.
"And Christmas morning, just waking up and opening presents, and then going out skating, to me that was my winters as a kid," said Christensen as he pulled off his gear in the visitors' dressing room. "Same sort of feeling [today]. It's kind of neat to be outside skating." You know, it's a big game. It's a regular-season game. But, at the same time, you don't get this chance very often, so you want to enjoy it.
Sabres defenseman Nathan Paetsch, a native of LeRoy, Saskatchewan, recalls standing in his backyard with the hose, watering a homemade rink with makeshift boards made out of railway ties. "And just being out there all night waiting until it would finally freeze over," he said. "Definitely the first time I got to skate on my long, hard-work outdoor rink is probably my best memory." Walking down the long, inclined walkway from the dressing rooms, across the black rubber matting to the rink, Paetsch got a similar thrill. "It was kind of cool," he said. "I think it's going to be really cool [Tuesday] when the stands are full, you're walking down, you've kind of got a steep walk down, you get to see everything coming in with a packed house. [It's] going to be quite an awesome thing."
It is apropos, perhaps, that the NHL has built a small pad of ice next to the main rink where youngsters can skate before the game and between periods. It's a link between the dreams of youth and the reality of dreams realized for the players on both teams. Remember James Earl Jones' "People will come" speech at the end of "Field of Dreams?" The NHL has discovered that if it continues to build hockey's own field of dreams, the players will most definitely come.
And there's something reassuring about that.