January 2, 2008 6:13 AM

Now THIS was fun, eh?

Crosby scores shootout winner as Penguins nip Sabres in Winter Classic

Penguins 2, Sabres 1, SO

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Sidney Crosby can expect chilly receptions every time he returns to Buffalo. Some snow, a shootout and Sid the Kid’s winning goal added up to a perfect hockey day outside that will forever be frozen in time. The Penguins captain somehow saw space between Ryan Miller’s pads as he shuffled through driving snow and gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at the outdoor Winter Classic in front of an NHL-record 71,217 fans on Tuesday…. “Growing up, I played a lot outside,” said Crosby, a Nova Scotia native. “When you see 70,000 people jammed into a stadium to watch hockey, it’s a good sign. The atmosphere and environment, I don’t think you can beat that.”…. In elements more suited for football than hockey, Crosby won the NHL’s second outdoor game — and first in the United States — in the most dramatic fashion at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the Buffalo Bills.

Oh, man, was this a good time or what? The only other time I’ve wanted to be in Buffalo was a few years ago when I went to Niagara Falls (and at least that was during August). I would have LOVED to have been in the stands for this one, though- the first regular season NHL game played outside. As you might expect from anything outdoors in Buffalo in January, there was wind, snow, and cold. The snow made for some challenging ice conditions, but overall the ice appeared to be in surprisingly good condition. There were a couple of trouble spots resulting from trying to place and maintain a flat ice surface on top of a crowned football field, but from my vantage point on my recliner, the ice looked good. OK, so it wasn’t the pristine, perfect ice you might expect from an indoor surface, but for me that was part of the fun of this game. ‘Course, I wasn’t playing.

I was surprised at the high quality of play given the adverse conditions. Players in general seemed to adapt fairly quickly to the conditions, and the rule of the day was “keep it simple”. No fancy passing, no complicated offensive or defensive schemes- just a lot of short, crisp passes and a lot of “dump and chase”. All in all, it was a surprisingly entertaining game. Neither goaltender suffered from overwork, and there wasn’t a lot of hitting, but there weren’t any fights, and the game was played cleanly. If the NHL intended the Winter Classic as an advertisement for the world’s best hockey, they couldn’t have asked for a better product.This sort of thing can only be good for the NHL, and while outdoor games probably won’t become a regular feature, the NHL would be well-advised to continue thinking outside the box if they want to convince Americans that they’re a major league sport.

Somewhere, Mario Lemieux is smiling. Man, I just wish I could have been there….

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on January 2, 2008 6:13 AM.

Where's Stupendous Man when this nation truly needs him? was the previous entry in this blog.

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