In the first of two games played in Yankee Stadium, the game was delayed for the first hour. With clear skies and the sun shining brightly down upon the ice, the early afternoon conditions were blinding for the players.
As the teams waited for the clear to take to the ice, they stayed indoors playing soccer, eating and throwing a baseball around in the locker room.
“Played soccer,” Devils Patrik Elias said when asked what he was doing during the delay. “Threw a baseball. Hop-stopped twice. Hop-stopped twice. Had a bagel. Went in the shower. Had a toast after that again because I got hungry. Kind of rotating around.”
An hour after the original start time, the players took to the ice for the first ever hockey game in Yankee Stadium while the sun was still shining overhead.
Elias became the first person to score a hockey goal in Yankee Stadium. He scored at 5:36 into the first period. But the Rangers weren’t going to allow the Devils to take and keep the lead for too long. Dominic Moore tied the game up at 9:07.
But for Elias, he was just getting started. He scored again off of an incredible pass from Jaromir Jagr at 11:00, a power play goal. Travis Zajac followed at 16:07 to give the Devils a two-goal lead. That lead was cut short when Marc Staal scored for the Rangers at 16:59 to end the first period with a score of 3-2 in favor of the Devils.
“I’m not going to lie,” Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist said of the period. “I had a bad feeling about it. My first thought was…’am I going to be able to finish this game?’ And then we just sort of regrouped.”
The tables turned in the middle period all thanks to the weather changing. It started snowing. Rangers Mats Zuccarello tied up the game at 2:48, and then edged the Rangers into the lead with another goal at 12:44. Carl Hagelin edged New York ahead even further at 13:53, and then Rick Nash ended the period with a sixth Rangers goal at 19:31.
The major issue for the Devils centered around the inclement weather conditions. The Rangers practiced in the snow on Saturday. As the snow began to fall in the second period, the Devils completely lost their edge and were never able to regain composure. Perhaps the situation would have been different if both teams had practiced in the snow the day before.
“The game was delayed because of the sun…and then there was the snow,” Jagr said. “The snow kind of killed us because [the Devils] stopped playing while the snow was coming [down]. I think we cannot play in the snow. They scored four goals, five goals in the snow. We were good in the sun, but not in the snow.”
The four goals scored in a single period created a new outdoor game record.
The lackluster period for the Devils landed Martin Brodeur on the bench. Cory Schneider was given the nod for the last twenty minutes of regulation.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Jagr said of Brodeur. “Of course, I feel bad for him, but it wasn’t his fault. Sometimes you have tough luck.”
“You know what other goalies go through mentally,” Lundqvist said. “Of course you feel for him. He couldn’t finish the game. But it was a tough game for him to play. We had a lot of odd man rushes. It was a really tough place.”
The goalie change didn’t stop the Rangers from punishing the Devils. With Derek Stepan drawing a penalty from Travis Zajac on the way to the net, the Rangers forward was awarded a penalty shot. He was successful and inched the Rangers further ahead to a 7-3 score.
With the Devils struggling to get back to their own style of hockey, they were never able to regain composure. The snow really did them in. The Rangers took the 7-3 win and the two vital points that were needed in the race for a playoff spot.
“The experience is great,” Devils captain Bryce Salvador said after the game. “It’s one of those games you want to play in and be a part of. We definitely wanted a better outcome.”
“It was fun to be a part of,” Elias said. “Fun to play. The conditions were what they were. Obviously, it was tough. It was snowing. The quality of the ice was questionable. But you know that’s going to happen going in. It’s the same thing for both teams. We didn’t keep it simple in the second period and it cost us the game.”
That Old Nagging Jagr Injury
Back in the 2012 Winter Classic, Jagr left just a few minutes into the first period due to a leg injury that was complicated by the cold. This year, Jagr played in the entire game. What was so different this time around?
Jagr is a very different player than he was while he was with the Philadelphia Flyers. He wasn’t just a few months shy of playing in the KHL. He spent the majority of last season playing a lot of hockey. He appeared in more hockey games in the combined Czech Leagues and the NHL than any other NHL player. He played all the way through until June 2013.
He has a different diet than he had back then. He’s leaner now and a faster skater. He is a completely different conditioned Jagr than he was back in the 2012 Winter Classic.
But it’s realizing how he was injured back in that game in 2012 that nags on his brain for this outdoor game. What has he done differently?
“I prepared differently than I did before,” he said. “I used some stuff to keep me warm.”
He used different muscle creams to keep the muscles warm and even wore a full ski mask throughout the game to keep his head warm. Everything he did in preparation was to avoid being injured.
He also kept his shifts short, averaging 00:47 per shift for a total of 15:00 of ice time.
By being more cautious and better prepared, he was able to avoid the same injury again.
Gelinas Plays in Yankee Stadium
Devils rookie Eric Gelinas comes from a family of baseball players. His father played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. His brother was drafted by the Anaheim Angels. Even though they both played professional baseball neither one ever played in either of the Yankee Stadiums.
The ironic thing about this is that the hockey player of the Gelinas family ended up playing in Yankee Stadium.
“It was pretty nice,” Gelinas said. “I’ve never been in front of a large crowd like this. It was a nice experience. It was loud and it was fun (if you don’t look at the score).”
“It was fun. I have a baseball family so every baseball stadium is nice. I’ve watched a lot of baseball in my life.”
Gelinas was a big Montreal Expos fan growing up.
“They were the team I always went to the games,” he said of Montreal.
Did he ever dream of playing in a baseball stadium like Yankee Stadium?
“Not at all,” he said laughing. “I guess I’m fortunate to have that experience.”
Even though he comes from a baseball family, his family didn’t make it down for this once in a lifetime event for Eric.
“No, they didn’t get to come down because they work tomorrow,” he said. “It was kind of hard to make the trip. But they were watching on TV, so I guess they enjoyed it from a warm place.”
The burning question is what famous Yankee player’s locker did Gelinas end up in?
“I haven’t asked, actually.”
Who was he hoping for?
“It doesn’t really matter. I know a little bit of Russell Martin…so maybe? I don’t know if that’s his locker or used to be at least.”
The Overall Yankee Stadium Experience
Playing in Yankee Stadium, a club that consisted of some of the greatest names to ever play in baseball, is a special moment. What was the most amazing part of this experience for the players?
“It’s the first time I really was in the game five hours before I even start,” Jagr said. “We had a lot of time to warm-up. I feel like the fans enjoyed it.”
Jagr was also mesmerized by the photos he saw in the dressing room. He took a picture of the Babe Ruth photos he came across.
“I’m going to say being inside here,” Elias said of the New York Yankees locker room. “And when you walk out and see the crowd. It is not as loud, because the sound is different. You’re outdoors and spread out. You look around and see the Stadium…that was special. That moment.”
“I think getting the chance to bring my daughter out on the ice and skate around with her,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said of the Saturday family skate on the ice. “It’s the first time I’ve had her on the ice. We had a Christmas skate, but I was hurt during that time so I didn’t get to bring her out.
“Just having family here and enjoying it with them here today is a big thing. I’m a big Yankees fan, so having the game here is extra special for me. I’ve watched quite a few games here before [at Yankee Stadium]. It will be a little different being out there.”
“You get goosebumps,” Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist said. “It’s the feeling you’re looking for when you play the game. It’s a lot of adrenaline. You try to enjoy that moment and it’s a time you need to focus on what we have to do. It’s an important game for both teams and that makes it even more special.”
“I think family,” Rangers Rick Nash said of his favorite moment. “Being out there [during the family skate] was the most fun. Just skating around with them and letting them enjoy it.”
As for the first of the two series, the NHL had good news to report.
“We’ve had an incredible start to the Coors Light Stadium Series,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “The last 24 hours, I think they left them short of remarkable. Two games. Two rivalries. Two coasts. And over 100,000 fans enthused at a spectacular, unique entertaining and special event. We couldn’t be more pleased.”