The 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will be held at Nationals Stadium, is less than three weeks away.
Capitals players are starting to think about the event, especially with EPIX cameras shadowing them on and off the ice for the miniseries “Road to the NHL Winter Classic.”
“Once the cameras are around, you start thinking about it a lot more,” Capitals forward Eric Fehr said. “We have to obviously continue our everyday lives, play our games, you know, but a small part of us is starting to focus to the Winter Classic.”
“It’s a big event and we’re all excited to play in it,” Marcus Johansson said. “And especially now with the cameras around, you kind of know it’s coming.”
Brooks Orpik, who played for Pittsburgh when the Capitals ventured outside for the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be playing in his third Winter Classic. He and the Penguins faced the Buffalo Sabres in the inaugural Winter Classic on New Year’s Day 2008. As a Penguin, Orpik also played in a Stadium Series game versus the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field.
“Man, was it cold,” the defenseman said of the snowy game.
While Orpik admitted that the outdoor games he has played in have been different (especially weather wise) he said they have all been fun, noting that it’s great to have friends and family around to see the event.
“It’s weird, it is a regular season game, so it holds a lot of value, but at the same time you just have fun with it,” he said. “Obviously when you win it’s a lot more fun.”
While Orpik knows what it is like to win and lose a Winter Classic, the Capitals have only known victory. They, along with the Penguins, also played in the first and only night time Winter Classic. Warm and rainy weather in Pittsburgh in 2011 meant a delayed Winter Classic, but players did not seem to mind.
“I think during the day a lot of us were worried about the sunlight and wearing the eye black,” Fehr said. “To have it at night under the lights was really cool.”
Johansson noted that day or night, the Winter Classic is always an amazing event.
“I think it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I think last time was an awesome experience and an awesome event and I think everyone enjoyed it. I think the only thing was that it was raining but that’s kind of the beauty about it, too, that you can’t control the weather. It’s going to be fun and hopefully we’ll get a beautiful day here.”
Johansson did point out that the early game time provides a perk for him and other European players.
“It’ll be fun to play at 1 in the afternoon and the people in Sweden can watch, too,” he said.
The early start time, however, could throw a wrench in party plans. While New Year’s Eve is generally a late, raucous night for many people, the Capitals will not have that luxury.
“I’ll probably be fast asleep by the time midnight comes around,” Fehr said.
While Orpik noted that he’s “not a big New Year’s guy anyway,” he remembered the Penguins New Year’s Eve before their 2008 Winter Classic.
“Right behind the hotel (where we were staying) was where they did their ball drop, so even if we wanted to be in bed early there was music and the ball drop, so that was kind of a disadvantage I guess.”
New Year’s Eve plans are just one potential distraction for teams that host the Winter Classic. Since the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008, the visiting squad has won five of six games.
Orpik noted that familial obligations, like securing tickets, can be a distraction.
“I think it’s a lot like the playoffs,” he said. “I think you just got to try to get all your tickets done ahead of time.”
Fehr agreed that the road team has the advantage of having fewer friends and family to worry about and that they can simply stay in a hotel as if the Winter Classic was just another regular season road game.
While players remembered the weather and atmosphere from the 2011 Winter Classic, none who were asked recalled the somewhat infamous handshake incident at the end of the game. Media outlets and HBO picked up on the fact that the Capitals and Penguins did not shake hands at the end of the game, assuming that some sort of deep-seated rivalry was behind the snub. It turns out that may have not been the case at all.
“I don’t think we knew about it, to be honest,” Fehr said. “A regular season game, I’ve never shook hands after, so I would assume the players had no idea.”
“You really only do it in the playoffs,” Orpik said. “I’ve never heard of that actually.”
Maybe this year the Caps will get in their first post regular season game handshake with the Blackhawks after the Winter Classic. For now, though, they are hoping for a win and pleasant weather.