This year’s edition of the Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals at Heinz field was undoubtedly the most hyped, most anticipated, and most watched regular season hockey game in NHL history.
The crush of media covering the game was equal to contingents that have only been in the Stanley Cup playoffs in past years. Add to that HBO’s 24/7 crew that has followed both teams for the last month in putting together the four part series documenting all aspects of the teams and their preparations.
NBC’s Mike “Doc” Emrick, who is calling his fourth Winter Classic, said that the attention and interest has grown each year but has really exploded with this year’s match-up.
Weather has always been a story in the outdoor games but the rain and the delay that pushed the game into New Year’s prime time has intensified the interest among non-fans and casual viewers.
So the question has to be raised, with all the hype of playing outdoors, how will the teams react when the teams head back inside and things return to “normal”?
This year, Washington and Pittsburgh both play Tampa Bay in their next game. The Caps go on January 4 and the Pens play on January 5, so they do benefit by having a day or two off after the game.
In the first Winter Classic in Buffalo on January 1, 2008, Pittsburgh beat the Sabres 2-1 when Sidney Crosby won the game in a shoot-out. After the game, the Pens won four in a row and went on to lose to Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals.
Pittsburgh Coach Dan Bylsma was not concerned about a let down after the contest, “We have a break, for us, a significant break, before our next game. So we’ll have a day off. And then get back to focusing on the rest of the season. This is just about the halfway point for us.”
He went on to say, “We would change modes a little bit anyways after the halfway point. And before yesterday, the few days before, but maybe a even a couple of weeks before, there’s been distractions building up to the Winter Classic, and it has been something that is in the back of our minds. But after the game’s over, tonight, I think the guys will be ready to get on with the rest of the season and it won’t be much of a distraction.”
When asked about a hangover, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau quipped, “I don’t know. We haven’t got to the next game yet. But the next game is against Tampa, and I think we’re tied with them for division lead. So hopefully it’s not a distraction. But we won’t know until we get there.”
The players seem even less concerned about any hangover or distraction from the big event.
“I don’t think it is at all,” explained Sidney Crosby. “It’s a great event and we’ve got a few days before our next game. I don’t think it’s a distraction at all. We are all really happy to be a part of it and I don’t see anyone complaining about it at all.”
Capitals’ defenseman Mike Green had not given the issue much thought and seemed puzzled with the question, “I don’t know if it would be a distraction. It’s just another game with a lot of magnitude behind it. I think it’s a good thing that we’ve done this. It’s kind of halfway through the season and we get something new. We play so many games that are repetitive that this is exciting for us. It won’t be a distraction.”
Both Pittsburgh and Washington have had more media focus over the past few years than most other NHL teams so they may be better equipped to deal with the extra attention they have received in the past few weeks.
Still, it will be interesting to watch and see how both teams play and react in their next indoor game, over the next few weeks, and for the remainder of the season.