And thanks to tier I puckhead Dan Rinzel for sharing his oh-so-endearing father-daughter photo from Winter Classic weekend 20011.
Some parting reflections, first from Elisabeth, who represented us in the Heinz Field Press box this past weekend:
Lis: The Other Side of the Looking Glass: You know that excitement you get when you’re given tickets to a game, you walk in, and you realize the seats are even better than you thought? That was my first impression when I got to the Heinz Field press box and saw my seat in the front row. Press boxes are tiered, and, while I’m sure there are numerous advantages to sitting up higher, I never have, and thus am blissfully ignorant of them. Because I felt nearer the action, I loved being close to the glass windows.
I did, however, develop a love-hate relationship with this perch. Watching a game from an enclosed box gave us great perspective (and kept us warm and dry), but it was also a little isolating, something my OFB editor and mentor appropriately termed the “reverse fishbowl effect.” It’s similar to watching a plane take off from an airport terminal — you can see everything and hear most of it, but you’re significantly separated from the action. At one point, we had to text people sitting in the stands to make sure it was raining, not snowing, since it was difficult to see the precipitation from our seats. At Verizon Center, since there’s no glass closing off the press box, the energy of the crowd is easier to experience. It’s more an observation on the football venue than a critique of any press box setup. I think the glass can be opened, weather permitting, but I’m guessing that’s not the tradition in January.
Though I would have camped out rinkside for 48 hours if the league had let me this past weekend, the brief time we spent there during Friday’s practice was surreal: right up by the glass, dodging pucks that flew over the top of it (there was no protective netting there Friday). You got to see the players’ excitement during the family skate after practice. Brooks Laich had a huge grin the whole time, and it looked like he was filming everyone as he skated around with a camera. You’ve probably seen the pictures of people clinging to Ovechkin as he helped them skate around the rink. Tom Poti skated by carrying the cutest baby I’ve ever seen.
Players come off the ice at different times, which adds a layer of challenge for the reporter — for example, if I wanted to catch a Caps player for an interview in the dressing room, and he came off the ice early, I was liable to miss whatever funny events happened rinkside. By the time Ovechkin started playing with a football and giving photographers everywhere the photoshoot of the day, for example, I had already left the rink to interview one of the players in the locker room.
That being said, locker room interviews are an essential part of the experience. One of the most interesting exchanges I had Friday was with Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot over his locker situation, since he has the unfortunate draw of sitting next to Sidney Crosby. This seems cool until you realize the daily throng of media surrounding Crosby’s locker means Talbot literally can’t get to his. He was, by the way, very gracious during the interview.
Final thought: for a rookie at these events, there’s always a fear that something will go wrong, that your credential will be lost somewhere in cyberspace, or that you won’t know how to find your way around. But I’ve rarely seen a smoother process, particularly in light of media demand for this high-profile event. The NHL credential office seemed exceptionally well organized, as did the entire operation. Thanks to Washington colleague Ted Starkey and some well-placed NHL direction signs, I didn’t get lost, either. I’m sure it can’t be easy dealing with that many journalists (we can be a rather demanding bunch), but the NHL seemed to handle everything media smoothly. Job well done.
- At the Winter Classic Alumni Game last Friday morning Bruce Boudreau, attired for evening business, strode out to the rink in the center of Heinz Field for a television interview amid a thundering chorus of “Haagen Dazs!” derision from 20,000 Pittsburgh Penguin fans. Oh he heard it alright; in typical Gabby fashion, he took the jabs in perfect stride, and as the Caps’ alums were leading the game at that moment, he simply pointed to the scoreboard as rejoinder. We thought about that moment deep into Saturday night, right as the Winter Classic’s final horn sounded. Seemed fitting that the man whom HBO cameras and this Midwest stadium so crudely treated at the end of 2010 enjoyed a victor’s walk after a huge hockey game in his stylish Capitals’ red letterman’s jacket.
- Also at the Alumni Game, near its midpoint, with the aged Capitals conspicuously competitive against an alumni Pens roster that would beat today’s Islanders and Devils, Mario Lemieux skated over to the Washington bench during a stoppage and complained, ‘You guys are skating too hard.’ They had to. And in so doing our heroes of yesteryear revived that overachieving work ethic that Comcast’s Alan May forecast would be on display. It was an exhibition, pure and simple, one easily forgotten by most of hockey, and yet somehow Peter Bondra’s tying tally with under a minute to play — with Don Beaupre pulled — felt significant. Guess that illustrates just how enduring and timeless a classic rivalry, represented by any era, can be.
- A few of us on the OFB team are old enough to remember what the Super Bowl was like before corporate schlock and egregious over-production overtook that game. Seems to us that the Winter Classic today possesses a lot of that early Super Bowl charm: it’s a city-enveloping affair, yes, but at puck-drop the game is about the game and remains that way. We hope the NHL never succumbs to elaborate corporate greed and bad taste in its stewardship of this special event. There should never be sixty-something Who concerts in between periods, for instance. Saturday’s game, contested in poor weather, still ended in under three hours. All Winter Classics should. Trust hockey fans to amuse themselves outside of those three hours on Winter Classic weekends just fine — as Capitals’ fans most assuredly did in Pittsburgh.
- suggested Central Park. Maybe that can be carried off, maybe it can’t. But the hope here is that the Winter Classic retains an aura inviting of such fresh and fun thinking. Part of the intrinsic charm of this event is that at its conclusion all of hockey begins speculating on the locale and participants for the next game. That’s good fun. Early in 2011, there seems to be emerging the sentiment that perhaps the NHL has exhausted the rotation of novel stadium sites for this game and needs to consider taking the Classic to an outside-the-convention locale. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks on Sunday
- Our two cents for the 2012 game: How about a Heritage Classic here in the States? The Quebec Nordiques (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers) and the Hartford Whalers (formerly the New York Islanders). Then you’d follow that in 2013 with a rematch between the Caps and Pens, in D.C. — except it would be a showdown of reconstituted rivals in the Patrick Division.
- When I sit and think about my time in enemy territory last weekend I think about Eric Fehr’s two goals, John Erskine’s fiesty fight, and of course screaming out Matty P’s name as loud as possible to spur him on. Out of the whole weekend, though, the one thing I remember most is something Dave Nichols of the Capitals News Network said on New Years Eve at the Hofbrauhaus. I stated simply how amazing the turnout on this roadtrip appeared to be. Clearly moved, Dave stood for a second and somberly stated how he had been to Caps’ games since second one of their existence and had never seen anything like the showing of New Years weekend.
- Right there, that’s it, that is what made the weekend so special. It wasn’t the win — although that was special — or the night air and lights or the fights or the heckling. While those were all great and memorable attributes of Winter Classic 2011, the outpouring of support and camaraderie all we Washingtonians experienced was what made this Classic special. The experience for me was once in a lifetime, something that can never be replicated because of the people who surrounded me. Whether it was the nine other friends who road-tripped out there with me, the couple behind me whom I swore I knew, or every fan who chanted “C-A-P-S CAPS CAPS CAPS!!!” on New Years Eve, they are all the ones who made the weekend memorable.