PITTSBURGH -- It was when Eric Fehr(notes) scored his second goal of the night with 8:02 remaining in the third period that many of the tens of thousands of Pittsburgh Penguins fans in attendance at Heinz Field began to leave and end their Winter Classic experience.
The large number of Washington Capitals fans in attendance took a sigh of relief knowing that Fehr's goal clinched a game that head coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards was worth more than two points to the team.
As another Winter Classic has come and gone and the rink from Heinz Field will be taken apart and readied for assembly in Calgary for next month's Heritage Classic, here are seven impressions from this week in Pittsburgh.
1. Ain't no party like a Winter Classic party. There was an air of excitement and anticipation outside of Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon in the hours leading up Capitals/Penguins. Tailgating rivaled that of any NFL or college stadium parking lot. Fans were parked with tents and cooler hours before the 5:30 p.m. opening of the stadium gates. There was a buzz about the game everywhere you went in the city over the past few days and that feeling was brought inside Heinz Field for three periods. It was more than just a game to the fans that came to Pittsburgh, it became a week-long event.
2. The Sid/Ovie hype won't always pay off. When Crosby and Ovechkin traded hat tricks during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal in 2009, it was everything that the hype that's followed them since they both entered the NHL was supposed to be: two superstars taking their game to the next level and outshining everyone else on the ice. Tonight, that wasn't the case. Eric Fehr was the star with two goals and both Crosby and Ovechkin were pointless and each finished a minus-one.
3. Retro jerseys = sales. Remember when the Capitals unveiled their Winter Classic jerseys and fans were like, "That's nice, but I already own that one." Then the Penguins released theirs and everyone was like, "Really? Blue? Again? And what's up with all those stripes?" Well, despite the ho-hum attitudes towards both jerseys, they've been a hot seller. According to the NHL, over 38,000 jerseys have been sold and it's been proven as you walk along every street and look inside every restaurant around Heinz Field.
4. Two points are still on the line. After all the hype, all the build up and all the talk about the uniqueness of the game, it still was just another game for two points. The players are able to handle the conditions, the higher number of media following the team in the build up and trying to continue their same game preparations through it all, and once the game ends, their season goes back to normal.
5. Whatever Dan Craig is being paid, it's not enough. The ice conditions at the Winter Classic have gone from multiple stoppages in Buffalo, to well, none tonight. Now that the NHL owns its own portable rink, the issues that Craig and his crew had to deal with during the 2008 Classic are no more. Craig now only has to worry about precipitation and temperature causing unplayable ice. The talk all week was "ice, ice, ice" and while there was cause for concern considering the weather in Pittsburgh, the fact that Craig and his crew are able to ensure that these games go off, thereby saving the NHL major embarrassment, deserves plenty of praise.
6. Football stadiums are the way to go. The ability of the NHL to sell 60-70,000 tickets compared to half that in most baseball stadiums is one reason we'll see goal posts being torn down on some football field in late-December to begin preparing for a rink to be laid in the future. Another reason? Better sight lines, which for would be a make-or-break factor for fans thinking of shelling out $250-plus for a ticket. (That is, unless Yankee Stadium becomes available once their bowl game commitment ends in a few years.)
7. Nighttime it the best time for hockey. Having now seen a primetime Winter Classic for the first time, an 8 p.m. ET start time is ideal going forward. There was a special feeling about watching the game under the lights that added to the atmosphere and the day-long build up and coverage gave it a Super Bowl-type feeling. Fans arrived hours in advance, the game was the No. 1 thing talked about on local television and radio (even besides the panic over the weather) and a primetime slot on a national network in the U.S. is a much better way to showcase the game than an early afternoon start.