2011 NHL Winter Classic
|Date||January 1, 2011|
The 2011 NHL Winter Classic (known via corporate sponsorship as the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic) was the fourth edition of the annual outdoor ice hockey game held by the National Hockey League (NHL) as a regular season game. The Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA on January 1, 2011 at 8:00 p.m. US ET,1 having originally been scheduled for 1:00 p.m.2 The game was telecast on NBC in the USA, CBC (English) and RDS (French) in Canada. Pittsburgh native Jackie Evancho performed the Star Spangled Banner and Pittsburgh sports legends Mario Lemieux, Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis presided over the ceremonial dropping of the puck, and during the second intermission Harris and Bettis hosted a fan event at the outside rink.3
The 2011 Winter Classic was the second time the Penguins participated in an outdoor NHL game. The Penguins visited the Buffalo Sabres for the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008.4 Most notably, the Classic pitted two recent number-one draft picks against each other: Penguins center Sidney Crosby (2005) and Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin (2004); both players entered the league in the same year, 2005, due to the 2004–05 NHL lockout and have helped fuel the fire in a significant rivalry between the two teams that had been growing since the early 1990s.
At the event, the teams wore vintage uniforms based on Reebok's "Edge" template. The visiting Capitals wore a replica of their inaugural 1974–75 white uniform which they wore through the 1994–95 season.5 The Penguins wore new uniforms, based on those of their inaugural 1967–68 season; the navy and baby blue colors were reversed, and the jerseys featured a crest of their original skating penguin logo, in place of the diagonal letters.
The game had originally been scheduled for 1:00 p.m., but due to concerns about rain, on December 31 the game was shifted to an 8:00 p.m. start.1 A few weeks prior, the possibility was raised that the Winter Classic might be postponed or canceled altogether. All major weather outlets forecast unseasonably warm temperatures for the day of the game, with the possibility of rain. Heavy or constant rain was the greater concern for the NHL, as it could eventually make the ice surface unplayable. Light rain would have frozen on contact and made the surface uneven, while hard rain could have possibly flooded the rink. Early on the NHL had contingency plans to push the game back to January 2 if necessary, but preferred not to do so since this would have conflicted with telecasts of NFL games. If neither date had reasonable weather, the game would have been postponed and the matchup rescheduled indoors at Consol Energy Center later in the season. New Year's Weekend was the only time the Steelers would have allowed Heinz Field to be available, since they needed time to get it ready for any postseason home game (which could have been as early as January 8).6
As New Year's Day approached weather forecasts solidified that by late afternoon the Pittsburgh region would be cooling to the 40s and eventually 30s, and major precipitation would be over by early evening for the duration of the weekend.7 As it turned out, the few fast-moving bands of light rain in the area had no effect on the surface, and no problems were reported.
For Hockey Night in Canada, the seven hour delay on the broadcast schedule caused the classic to be completely preempted in the province of Ontario. The network's coverage of the NHL that night began with the Battle of Ontario at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa at 7pm ET, and broke away to the Classic outside Ontario. The CBC truncated the broadcast after two hours in Alberta to show the Battle of Alberta at Rexall Place in Edmonton in its entirety.8
Canadian singer Steven Page sang "O Canada" and Pittsburgh native Jackie Evancho sang the Star Spangled Banner before Pittsburgh Sports legends Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis and Mario Lemieux joined U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Bradley T. Tinstman for the ceremonial puck drop.
As with the 2008 and 2009 games in Ralph Wilson Stadium and Wrigley Field, the NHL announced a rule change to account for any adverse weather conditions that could give either team an unfair advantage. Due to high winds, the teams changed sides an additional time, at the first whistle after the halfway point of the third period. This was done at exactly the halfway point of the third period in 2008 because of falling snow and again in 2009 due to high winds.
- Scoring summary
|2nd||PIT||Evgeni Malkin (14)||Kris Letang (27), Marc-Andre Fleury (1)||2:13||1–0 PIT|
|WSH||Mike Knuble (9) (PP)||Nicklas Backstrom (26), Mike Green (11)||6:54||1–1 TIE|
|WSH||Eric Fehr (6)||Marcus Johansson (4)||14:45||2–1 WSH|
|3rd||WSH||Eric Fehr (7)||Jason Chimera (7), John Erskine (6)||11:59||3–1 WSH|
- Number in parenthesis represents the player's total in goals or assists to that point of the season
- Penalty summary
|3rd||WSH||Mike Knuble||Delay of game||7:28||2:00|
- Three star selections
|1st||WSH||Semyon Varlamov||32 Saves (.970)|
|2nd||WSH||Eric Fehr||2 Goals|
|3rd||PIT||Evgeni Malkin||1 Goal|
- ^ Brent Johnson dressed for the Pittsburgh Penguins as the back-up goalie and did not enter the game.
^ Michal Neuvirth dressed for the Washington Capitals as the back-up goalie and did not enter the game.
- Washington Capitals: Tom Poti, Tyler Sloan
- Pittsburgh Penguins: Eric Godard, Chris Conner, Ben Lovejoy
The game garnered the highest ratings in Classic history on American television and a 22 percent increase in viewership compared to the previous year, capturing a 2.3 rating and 4.5 million viewers . Overall, the game was the most watched NHL contest in the United States since 1996, and the most watched regular season NHL game since 1975.11 Its overall ratings boost also helped NBC win the evening as the most watched network for January 1, 2011. These marks were achieved despite the seven-hour postponement of the game, which prevented network promotion of the new ad hoc 8 p.m. start time (and subsequent program listings of Law & Order: Los Angeles-Rerun on DVRs and program guides). Pittsburgh and Washington led the ratings, with Baltimore, which is part of the Capitals' territory, in third. Buffalo, New York was the highest-rated outside market, despite a Buffalo Sabres game playing opposite the Winter Classic.12
The NHL Legends Game was played on December 31 in the morning. The game, which featured notable alumni from both the Penguins and the Capitals, was played in two 20-minute periods and ended in 5–5 tie. Penguins goals were scored by Rob Brown, Rod Buskas, Craig Simpson, Jay Caufield and Ron Francis. Mario Lemieux had two assists. Paul Mulvey of the Capitals had two goals, while Alan May, Mark Lofthouse and Peter Bondra scored one each. Bondra's goal tied the game with 45 seconds remaining. The game didn't have overtime or shootout.1314
The Penguins alumni wore the 1968–72 styled powder blue jerseys, Pittsburgh's former third jersey that was introduced in the 2008 Winter Classic. The Capitals alumni wore Washington's current home red jerseys.
Several complaints were made by the fans in attendance. Prior to the game starting, there were complaints regarding the sale of the tickets to game, which went on sale at 10:00 a.m. on December 17, 2010 for $25 a piece. Only 10,000 tickets were available for sale by the NHL, while Heinz Field has a capacity of over 68,111 seats for hockey. Many fans who tried to obtain tickets from Ticketmaster at exactly 10:00 a.m., either via the internet or by telephone could not get access to the company. Many of the locked-out fans complained that most of the people who got tickets were ticket scalpers or people trying to sell them online. By 10:14 a.m., the first two tickets showed up for sale on the Pittsburgh craigslist website for $250 a piece. Throughout the day, there were several entries on eBay and craigslist seeking as much as $699.99 for two tickets and $1,380 for a set of four.15
The most vocal complaints were reserved for the time it took for many fans to get inside the stadium. Well into the first period of the two-period game, people reportedly still were entering Heinz Field. This was due to the stadium having only one open gate that morning, Gate B. Several fans further stated that not all the turnstiles were being used, a claim disputed by the Steelers, who spoke on behalf of stadium operations. Some confused fans also waited for other gates to open, which never happened.16
Some spectators also complained that the game ended in a 5–5 tie with no overtime or shootout. Penguins alumnus Phil Bourque said after the game that "I think everybody's a little disappointed that we didn't get to the shootout, because it would have been great to see Mario. Pittsburgh would have gone with all Hall of Famers, of course, in our shootout group." Penguins alumni coach Eddie Johnston later stated that his shootout plan consisted of having Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey and Bryan Trottier participating in that order.17
HBO aired a four-part documentary chronicling the preparation of the two teams for the game as part of its award-winning sports series 24/7. The first episode aired on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 10 p.m. ET,18 with three additional episodes following each subsequent Wednesday. The series chronicled each team's seasons leading up to the Winter Classic, and emphasized the rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin and between the Penguins and Capitals.
The week leading up to the Winter Classic featured a number of hockey-related events. On Thursday, December 30, 2010, the Robert Morris Colonials and the RIT Tigers men's varsity hockey teams met at the Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh for an Atlantic Hockey league match.19 The college game was followed that evening by an American Hockey League matchup between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Hershey Bears, the top minor-league affiliates of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, respectively.19