Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Winter Classic: We're live from Buffalo
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Scott Burnside checks in from Buffalo during Tuesday's Winter Classic between the Penguins and Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
• Tailgaters were already hard at it in the parking lots surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium at breakfast time Tuesday. What's that old saying about beer being the breakfast of champions? Well, if that's the case, there were a lot of champions in attendance. Among the ubiquitous fire pits and barbecues, the odd street hockey game broke out.
Look at those powder blues! The Penguins went retro for Tuesday's Winter Classic.
• The small pad of ice at one end of the main rink got a good workout with local youths playing long before the big game started. At one point, a man wearing a Sabres jersey weaved in and out of the shinny players and played a guitar and sang. The songs were broadcast over the stadium's sound system. It brought to mind that scene in "Animal House" when John Belushi stops where a young man is wooing some women with a guitar ballad and smashes the guitar to bits.
Luckily for the guitar player in question, Andrew Peters and Georges Laraque were nowhere to be found. We later learned from John Shannon, the head of television broadcasting for the NHL and a longtime "Hockey Night in Canada" producer, that the singer was former Boston Bruin Kraig Nienhuis. Go figure.
• Nice touch to have flags bearing the logos of all 30 NHL teams fluttering from the top of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
• The Sabres brought their skate-sharpening equipment to the bench area so players who needed some touch-ups wouldn't have to walk all the way back into the locker rooms. The team's stick rack also was covered by a towel to keep the sticks from getting covered in snow before the game.
• Sabres netminder Ryan Miller was expected to wear three toques during Tuesday's game, one bearing the Winter Classic logo, one with a Sabres logo and one promoting a charity interest.
• Game-time temperature is 33.1 degrees Fahrenheit.
• We're not normally big fans of overblown national songs, but it was pretty impressive listening to Irish tenor Ronan Tynan belting out "God Bless America" while a giant American flag was unfurled at one end of the stadium after the Canadian flag was revealed during "O Canada." And although there is a steady flurry of snow, it doesn't appear as though it will amount to much in terms of accumulation. At least not yet. Game on!
• Well, that didn't take long. Twenty-two seconds. Sidney Crosby (who else) blows by Brian Campbell, then Colby Armstrong deposits the rebound past Miller for an extremely early 1-0 Penguins lead. Campbell is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Thought we'd throw that in there.
• It looks as though the Sabres have a little outdoor stage fright. The Penguins are beating them to every puck; they've given up the first goal; and they've taken the first two penalties of the game, both the result of basically being caught flat-footed.
• During this, the first television timeout of the first period, crews are scrambling like crazy trying to shovel up as much loose snow as they can. Wonder whether they'll take the time to do a dry scrape with the ice-cleaning machines at some point. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, after consultation with his hockey operations people and NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly, can ask for an unscheduled stoppage in play to do something like that. The snow has pretty much tapered off to nothing now.
• Question answered. Two Zambonis are dry-scraping as we speak.
• Houston, we have a problem. Ice crews are back on the ice trying to repair what we can only assume is some sort of hole in the ice inside the Sabres' blue line. Dan Craig, ice man to the stars, is on his knees trying to make it right. There's still 7:43 left in the first period, and there hasn't been much in the way of flow.
• Craig is using some sort of aerosol can to help fill the hole. It must have worked. Back on!
• Just saw Buffalo defenseman Jaroslav Spacek shatter a stick on a one-timer. People will assume it's because of the cold, but having watched dozens of those wildly expensive sticks explode in comfy indoor rinks all over the NHL, it's hard to tell whether it's weather or workmanship at play.
• Can't tell from replays whether Ty Conklin actually got a piece of that Derek Roy chance from in front, but he sure sold it like he did. Good for the kid from Anchorage whose career seemed all but over the past couple of seasons. Also, just saw former New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury sitting at the broadcast desk with NBC's Bob Costas. Milbury is ubiquitous; not bad for a guy whose nickname was "Mad Mike" when he was a GM.
• Looked as if Henrik Tallinder nearly went down in a heap right where Craig was trying to fix the ice in the Sabres' zone. Yikes. Well, that might have been one of the longest periods on record, but it was pretty darn fun to watch. A couple of hits, including one by Campbell in the neutral zone, and a bunch of good chances.
• End of period: Penguins 1, Buffalo 0.
Fans found different ways to keep warm in the snowy conditions in Buffalo.
• Looks as though coach Lindy Ruff must have lit a fire under the Sabres in the first intermission as they've come out with renewed purpose and were rewarded with Campbell's goal 1:25 in.
• OK, we're better than halfway through the second period (how's that for a change of pace from the first?) and the Sabres have outshot the Pens 11-0. Wonder if that's a function of the wind or just better play from Buffalo?
• They just announced the attendance in the press box at 71,217. That's not the number of people in the press box, of course, but in the stadium. It's getting harder to see the fans, though, as the snow has picked up again.
• Roy, who had that glorious chance in the first period, just had another good scoring chance, batting a puck out of the air, off the cross bar and out of play.
• OK, two minutes left in the period and the Pens still haven't had a shot on Miller in this period. Their best opportunity came a few moments ago when defenseman Sergei Gonchar hammered a shot about six feet wide from the edge of the circle. Someone once said you can't score if you don't shoot. The Pens must have missed that memo.
• Drought is broken. Pens have one shot on net. Didn't actually see it, though. They finished with two for the period.
• End of period: Penguins 1, Sabres 1.
• Just ran into Buffalo GM Darcy Regier. He said the wind down at ice level is different. It's more swirling than what you might imagine if you just looked at the flags that ring the top of the stadium.
• Reinforcing the notion that Buffalo is a new, true Hockeytown, there are 11,500 fans down at HSBC Arena (the Sabres' regular home) watching the game. Proceeds will go to the Sabres' charitable foundation.
• So, they're about to blow the whistle to stop play at the midpoint of the third so each team can play the exact same amount of time in each direction, but I am wondering where the players have to look to see the clock. In NHL arenas, of course, they simply glance up; but here, it looks as if they'll have to look up into the corners of the stadium to see the clock -- unless there is a clock we can't see from the press box.
• Less than half a period and it appears as though every single fan is still in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Whether those fans are frozen to their seats is another question altogether. Ice crews are at it again. This time, they're trying to fix a hole in the Sabres' zone near the left faceoff circle.
• Just wondering, but is there anyone tougher than Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff? The man has been behind the bench all day without a hat. And he has, with all due respect, little in the way of natural covering to protect him from the elements.
• Now, it's the Penguins who are dominating the shot clock, outshooting the Sabres 12-3. Go figure.
• End of period: Penguins 1, Sabres, 1. We're going to overtime.
• Poor Colby Armstrong. Not only does he take a penalty as regulation time runs out, he has to sit in the penalty box while the two Zambonis scrape the ice. Luckily, there's a heater in there. To steal a line from the movie "Slap Shot," that's a long time to feel shame.
• It's a good thing this game is just about over because the snow is heavier now than it has been all afternoon.
• Final score: Penguins 2, Sabres 1.
• Frostbite: None for me, at least.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.