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It was not the most picturesque of days, it was not the Winter Classic of 2010 in beautiful Boston with the ultimate outdoor weather conditions for a nostalgic outdoor game. It was raining, dreary, a wet, raw Pittsburgh day for the perfect match-up of one of the best games in hockey history. Over 68,000 hockey fans converged at the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. The media surrounding the NHL’s crown jewel annual event has been unprecedented this year. The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins won over the attention of America with an HBO reality show series, 24/7. The four part mini series took hockey fans old and new on a journey following the two teams, from the inside with a behind the scenes view of the months leading up to the most successful sporting event of the year, the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. HBO’s reality TV series offered a backstage pass to the coaches and players lives and showed the differences in the philosophies of the two teams.
This is the fourth year the NHL has hosted a Winter Classic game on New Years Day and the second year that the Penguins have played in the mega match-up since 2008. What made the 2011 NHL Winter Classic so dynamic was the matchup between the two teams, who are such long time rivals they didin’t even shake hands after yesterdays game. To make things even more interesting, there was stark differences and drama in each of the teams in the month leading up to the event. The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Olympic gold medal and Stanly Cup winning forward Sidney Crosby, won 18 of the last 20 games leading up to the Classic. The Capitals didn’t win a game from Dec 3rd to Dec 19th until they finally broke an eight game losing streak in Ottawa when they beat the senators 3-2. The Capitals regained their composure and added momentum in the next week and a half putting them in good position, they won 4 out of the next 5 games. Ironically the one loss they faced was to Pittsburgh, at the Verizon Center, in a nail bitting shootout.
The Winter Classic was delayed due to the warm weather and rain from 1pm to 8pm yesterday. Approximately 30,000 Caps fans and 40,000 Pens fans converged at Heinz Field for what was to be the most exciting game of the year, and the game did not disappoint. The time change seemed to help, the overall TV ratings were reportedly up by 8%. The first period the Pens started out hot with goal tender Marc-Andre Fleury stopping all 20 shots and getting an assist on Evgeni Malkin goal. This would be the only goal for Pittsburgh on New Years day. Mike Knuble answered with the first goal for the Caps in the second period. The real star of the day was Eric Fehr. He picked a high profile game to let the world know that he is a force to be reckoned with scoring both of Washington’s other goals to make the final score 3-1 Caps. This was such an important win for the Capitals. They emerge victorious, the month long HBO special, that didn’t start out well, ended with the big win in front of millions of hockey fans worldwide. Not only did the Capitals steal the Winter Classic title from the Pens in their own backyard…literally, but they also presented themselves as a team that doesn’t need to rely on their star player to win games. People are thinking this could be the year for the Caps to bring home the coveted Stanley Cup that has eluded our Nations Capital to date.
One of the best parts about the Winter Classic is the nostalgia of playing hockey outside in the elements where hockey originated. And what old time hockey game would be complete without two bruisers squaring off and dropping the gloves. In a fight that will be carried on hockey channels for years John Erskine unleashed the fury with Pittsburgh’s Michael Rupp. These two hockey players fought it out old school style, blow by blow. At one point it looked like Rupp had the upper hand as Erskine lost his footing. The seasoned Capitals veteran regained his balance and landed some massive blows to the Penguins center. The fight ended in a draw as the two exhausted players were subdued by the officials and the game continued to the applause of the crowd. This is real raw hockey.
The word has trickled down from Ted Leonsis that the most exciting game in hockey, the NHL Winter Classic, will come to Washington, DC in the next two to three years. Places being considered for hosting the event are Nationals Park, Fedex Field, M&T Bank Stadium, Camden Yards and RFK Stadium. Nationals Park seems to be the favorite candidate with M&T Bank Stadium as a viable option possibly increasing the Capitals fan base. National Park holds 41,000 fans, RFK Stadium holds 46,000, Camden Yards holds 48,000 M&T Bank Stadium holds 71,000 and Fedex holds 91,000. Caps fans have been trying hard to BRING THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC TO DC and it looks like we may get our wish.
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