Frightful forecast for Winter Classic

Ross McKeon
Yahoo! Sports

The big question surrounding Tuesday's Winter Classic in suburban Buffalo isn't the opponent or the early wake-up call following New Year's Eve. The only thing the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres can think about now is the weather.

Sabres forward Tim Connolly summed it up best: "There's no telling what could happen in Buffalo. There could be two feet of snow or it could be 55 degrees."

Some 72 hours before the scheduled 1 p.m. ET faceoff of the first regular-season NHL game played outdoors in the United States, the forecast calls for a high of 33 degrees, a low of 20, a chance of snow and a 60 percent chance of precipitation.

If the weather prevents the nationally-televised event from happening at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, the game will be postponed until the same time on Wednesday.

The players are bracing for anything and everything.

"The wind. I don't know how you prepare for it, but it's something that you kind of maybe expect," Penguins forward Adam Hall said. "Some periods the wind would be behind you and you'd feel like you were flying. The next period you're changing ends and you're skating right into it, feels like you're in quicksand."

Hall is among a handful of players with outdoor game experience. All of them played on outdoor rinks growing up, but Hall and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller suited up for Michigan State in 2001 for the "Cold War" outdoor game versus Michigan at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

Both know the elements will play a factor.

"I think that cold does a lot more to you than you think," Miller said. "Get one of those survival books, figure out what those guys do to stay alive in the wild, I guess.

"You can get dehydrated very quickly in the wind and the cold, just the same way you can as if it's hot out. So you have to be aware of that, try and stay as warm as possible, get the core temperature up."

Players are not going to dwell on the challenges playing outdoors. Instead, this is an opportunity to travel back in time when all they knew was throwing on layers of clothes and heading to flooded backyards for hours of pure enjoyment.

"We played outdoors all the time when I was a kid. It was fun," said Sabres forward Maxim Afinogenov. "We didn't even know what it was like to play indoors. When you were growing up in Moscow, you always played outdoors."

"It's where you start. You're with your friends, you're a young kid. It's something to do during the winter time," added Sabres forward Drew Stafford, a Milwaukee native. "You want to get home from school and get back on the outdoor rinks."

Game officials were pleased with progress of the rink Friday, the fourth full day they've had to prepare after poor weather caused delays on Sunday and Monday.

The plan is to have the ice available by Monday so both teams can practice in preparation for the following day's game, which is expected to attract 72,000 spectators. The Sabres and Penguins also meet Sunday night, but indoors at Pittsburgh.

"I'm sure I'll be asleep before midnight strikes on New Year's Eve," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "When I get prepared to play an afternoon game outdoors in front of 75,000 people, it's a little different than lying on the couch and watching a few bowl games."

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