Penguins, Sabres to play outdoor game on New Year’s Day

BUFFALO, NEW YORK (TICKER) —It was probably just a couple of years ago that Sidney Crosby was used to playing outdoors frequently. He will get a chance to do it again.

Crosby, the NHL’s reigning Hart Trophy winner, and the Pittsburgh Penguins will play the Buffalo Sabres in an outdoor regular-season game on New Year’s Day, the league announced Monday.

In what is being titled the “NHL Winter Classic,” the 20-year-old Crosby and the Penguins will square off with the Eastern Conference foe in the second game of a home-and-home series at Ralph Wilson Stadium, site of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

It will be the first outdoor NHL game inside the United States and will air nationally on NBC at 1 p.m. EST.

“Many of our players have great memories of playing outdoors when they were growing up,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “This game provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase our great players, honor hockey’s heritage and ring in the New Year with the best fans in sports.”

The matchup features Crosby, who has rapidly emerged as the unofficial face of the NHL, and a talented young Penguins squad going against the Sabres, last season’s winner of the President’s Cup for the best record in the regular season.

“It should be a great New Year’s Day,” Penguins president Dave Morehouse said. “It’s great for the NHL as a whole. For us, it’s an opportunity to play on the center stage of the NHL.

“A lot of non-hockey fans will be given the opportunity to see what is happening here with the Penguins and see the talent we have on our team and that is tremendously exciting.”

In his second season, Crosby scored a team-high 36 goals and had 120 points to become the youngest player in the history of North American team sports to lead a league in scoring.

The Sabres are led by talented goaltender Ryan Miller, who had 40 wins, and left wing Thomas Vanek, who led the team with 43 goals last season.

“We are very excited to be participating in the inaugural NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo on New Year’s Day,” Buffalo owner Tom Golisano said. “Staging this event in Buffalo, in-front of over 70,000 passionate hockey fans, will further demonstrate that Buffalo is one of the greatest hockey cities in the world.”

While the holiday date supplies a platform for the league to showcase some of its top young talent, the outdoor game is not a new concept for the NHL.

The Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers played in “The Heritage Classic” on November 22, 2003 at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. The contest was attended by 57,167 people, the largest contingent to watch a live NHL game, despite temperatures of minus-22 degrees wind chill.

The regular-season game was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Oilers joining the NHL in 1979.

After an alumni game featuring legends Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, Richard Zednik scored both the game’s first goal and the eventual game-winner in the Canadiens’ 4-3 victory over the Oilers.

That attendance figure could be surpassed on January 1, as capacity at Ralph Wilson Stadium exceeds 73,000.

College hockey has also thrown its helmet into the outdoor rink.

Michigan State University and rival Michigan also ventured outside to play in the “Cold War” in front of 74,544 on October 6, 2001. The game was played in an ice rink inside the much-larger Spartan Stadium, which plays host to the university’s football team.

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Updated Monday, Sep 17, 2007