Winter Classic isn't just an experience for the fans

(Ed. Note: No Three Stars tonight. Happy New Year! Don't forget to join us for our Winter Classic live chat Saturday night beginning at 8 p.m. ET)

PITTSBURGH -- The previous three Winter Classics have received rave reviews from the 150,147 combined fans that were attendance in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston. From the outdoor hockey atmosphere to the pre-game tailgaiting that continued on into the games, fans come away as the big winners from the Winter Classic experience.

But aside from the fan experience, the excitement the players involved feel almost matches that of those in attendance. Even with the game being meaningful with two points on the line, that doesn't displace the feelings the players get as they become a part of a unique opportunity.

"It was cool," said Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy(notes) about stepping onto the Heinz Field rink for the first time during practice this morning.

"The atmosphere is great," said Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin(notes). "And it's too bad it was not open practice for fans. But it's good. We have family and friends with us. And we just chill over there before the big game, so it's good."

Echoing Lovejoy's and Ovechkin's sentiments was Capitals forward Jay Beagle(notes), who's spent most of the season with Hershey of the AHL.

"It was unbelievable just looking around at the stands," Beagle told "It almost didn't seem real that I was here and it was pretty special even throwing on the jersey and with the jersey on walking out with the boys."

Even the guys who've been through the experience of a Winter Classic understand how special it is.

"I was lucky enough to play in one of these in Chicago," said Penguins forward Craig Adams(notes). "Each one is unique, and I think the guys on both teams should consider themselves pretty lucky just to come in here and practice and play in a football stadium in front of a whole bunch of people. It's a lot of fun."

Having re-joined the Capitals Dec. 15 after a one-game stint in October, Beagle is not taking this opportunity for granted.

"I couldn't ask for it to happen in a better way. To come up and play my game and to be helping a team and to get a chance to play in a Winter Classic. If you would have told me two months ago, I wouldn't have believed you."