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Sabres, Penguins set for outdoor showdown Jan. 1 in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Sidney Crosby will show off his
passing skills at the same place Jim Kelly did for years -- in front
of shivering fans at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium.

It'll be pucks instead of footballs and the home team will be
the Sabres and not the Bills.

Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins will face Buffalo on New
Year's Day in the first outdoor NHL game in the United States. It
will be the second time the league staged such an event in the
regular season, coming more than four years after the Montreal Canadiens faced the Oilers outside on a frigid November day in
Edmonton.

The official announcement was made Monday at the 74,000-seat
stadium, where the league attendance record is expected to be
broken.

"I'm excited," said Crosby, the 20-year-old reigning MVP. "I
think it's going to be a great experience for everyone. We all
watched the Edmonton-Montreal game. We've all prepared for this at
some point in our careers, playing outside, so I think it's going
to be a lot of fun for us and for the fans."

Preparations for the historic game are expected to begin on
Christmas Eve, the day after the Bills play the New York Giants in
Buffalo's final regular-season home game. A refrigeration system
will be installed to make the ice and the process will be
supervised by Dan Craig, the NHL's ice expert.

"There is something very special about taking hockey out into
the elements, back to its roots, back to the place where so many
boys and girls first learned to love the game," NHL commissioner
Gary Bettman said on the stadium's bright green turf, which will be
transformed into an ice rink.

Buffalo was chosen for its dependably cold winters and proximity
to Pittsburgh, from where fans are expected to make the 225-mile
trip in droves. The NHL already is making plans to organize bus
excursions and hold hotel rooms.

"The average temperature in the beginning of January, end of
December is 25 degrees," Bettman said. "That's exactly what we're
hoping for. A little overcast ... We prefer that there be no
lake-effect snow or any other precipitation."

A normal Jan. 1 snowfall in Buffalo is less than an inch,
according to National Weather Service records. Temperatures have
varied from 0 degrees in 1970 to 63 in 1985.

Tickets, ranging from $29 to $225, were scheduled to go on sale
Tuesday morning. The game will be televised by NBC against college
football bowls.

"I never thought it was going to happen again, to be honest,"
Crosby said of playing outside. "But to be part of it, we really
feel fortunate."

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was in net for Michigan State for its
2001 outdoor "Cold War" with Michigan, when shadows and wind were
unique challenges.

"I got off the ice after that game and I was red in the face,
windburned, and my toes were frozen," Miller said. "I'm hoping I
learned a little bit and can make some adjustments and figure out
how to stay warm."

The Sabres have reached the Eastern Conference finals each of
the past two seasons. The Penguins, built around young stars Crosby
and rookie of the year Evgeni Malkin, are hoping to get to that
level soon.

"We have a young team so it's not that long ago that our young
players were actually playing on ponds," Penguins president David
Morehouse said. "Whether it be Sidney Crosby in Canada, Evgeni Malkin in Russia or Ryan Whitney in the United States ... they're
very excited and enthusiastic."

Bettman said the NHL will pay for the event, expected to cost
"well into the seven figures." A contingency plan is in the works
in case the weather doesn't cooperate.

The league's only previous outdoor non-exhibition game drew
57,167 fans to Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in November 2003.

"We were overdue for another one but we needed the right place,
the right teams and the right time and we found them all," Bettman
said. "Plain and simple, we are doing this to have some fun."