Are you getting to the point where the NHL’s outdoor Winter Classic franchise is getting a little stale? Blame Sidney Crosby.
Or are you perhaps thrilled that the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday are playing in their third Winter Classic – and sixth regular-season outdoor game – when they take on the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park. Well, you can heap lots of credit on, you guessed it, Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins superstar center is a big reason the league is still holding these open-air spectacles.
It’s a little tough this year, with the Penguins heading to Boston on an 0-2-2 slide to take on the Bruins, the top team in the NHL, amid all sorts of hype and pomp. But that will be almost beside the point come game time – set for 2 p.m., weather permitting. It’s an event.
It all goes back 15 years, when the Penguins played in the first Winter Classic, Jan. 1, 2008, against the Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The game was very much experimental. It could have been the bomb. It could have been a bust.
The Penguins won 2-1. Crosby set up Colby Armstrong for the game’s first goal – Armstrong has been delighting in recounting that goal and pointing out that at 21 seconds into regulation it was the first and remains the fastest one in Winter Classic history.
But it was Crosby’s shootout-winning goal, as well as the snow globe setting, that made the game such a success. Crosby had not won a Stanley Cup yet, but as Sidney Crosby the entity, he was already a hugely marketed commodity in the NHL.
Going into the Penguins’ next Winter Classic appearance, in 2011at Heinz Field (now Acrisure Stadium), Crosby gave this writer a one-on-one interview to talk about the outdoor spectacles.
That was before that game, before Crosby took a hit from David Steckel and headed down the dark concussion rabbit hole, so things were upbeat.
Crosby, in the story that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, noted that the tough ice and weather conditions in Buffalo did not faze the Penguins.
“I guarantee you not one guy complained about the ice,” Crosby said then. “I didn’t hear one guy complain. We all knew it was awesome to be a part of it, and whether the ice was tough or the conditions were tough, it didn’t matter. Guys were just happy to be a part of it.”
The NHL, of course, was thrilled that things went so well, and that the Winter Classic is still a popular event. After all, getting eyes on a hockey game during college football bowl season and creating a merchandise market for the specialized team gear are major pluses.
Of course, those same things, and others, might be reasons some find the outdoor games to be getting a little forced. Game times have had to be shifted because of weather concerns. Poor ice could make crisp play difficult or even increase injury concerns. There are often interruptions for extra ice cleanings.
Love them or hate them, the Winter Classics seem to be here to stay.
Due, in large part, to Sidney Crosby.
As the aforementioned Post-Gazette story pointed out of that initial outdoor game in Buffalo and Crosby’s shootout winner:
“Crosby whooshed his way down the slot that snowy late afternoon and slipped the puck under Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller – a shot that not only secured a 2-1 New Year’s Day victory, but also painted a scene so Rockwellian that the NHL had no sensible choice but to make the game an annual event.”