by Patrick Hoffman on 01/08/11 at 07:05 PM ET
Shawn Lavigne, a host/producer of Hockey This Morning on XM NHL Home Ice, was kind enough to take time out os his busy schedule to tell us about his experience at this year’s Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.
PH: First off, tell us about your thoughts when you were first told that you would be covering the Winter Classic for NHL Home Ice?
SL: Well when the game was announced for Pittsburgh, I said no matter what I could not miss it! I love watching both the Capitals and Penguins and wanted to be part of the best rivalry in the league right now. I will call my experience a great working vacation.
PH: What was it like seeing one of the NFL’s better stadiums turned into a hockey rink/arena for a few days?
SL: I arrived in Pittsburgh on Thursday morning and immediately I saw a huge Winter Classic banner on the outside of Heinz Field. The stadium looked incredible inside and out. It is a great facility and the NHL did an outstanding job converting the stadium into a hockey environment. Heinz Field had a more intimate feel to it compared to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo when I was there for the first Winter Classic.
PH: What was the atmosphere like? What were fans looking forward to the most when it came to this year’s Winter Classic?
SL: Television did not do the Winter Classic ‘event’ justice. The atmosphere Friday for the Alumni Game and Saturday for the Winter Classic outside of Heinz Field was electric. People began tailgating for the Alumni game at 7:30 am Friday morning. Saturday with the switch to night fans began flocking to the stadium early and had tons of fun at Spectator Plaza outside of the stadium. It really did have a Super Bowl feel to it.
The fans were looking forward to seeing another competative game between the two rivals. The HBO 24/7 enhanced the hype going into the matchup. Everyone was talking about it so when the game finally arrived there really was a fever pitch to it. I spent the afternoon with friends at Jerome Bettis Grille on the patio and there was a really great buzz. The Caps faithful with their “C-A-P-S, CAPS CAPS CAPS” chant set off a fun exchange with the Pens supporters which was all in good fun.
PH: What did you think of the game itself? Was it everything you thought it would be?
SL: The Winter Classic ‘event’ was everything I thought it would be. The game itself was much better then Buffalo and Boston in my opinion but because of the warm wet weather, it certainly wasn’t a ‘classic’ by any stretch of the imagination.
PH: How much of a factor do you think the weather was during the game?
SL: First, let me say the unsung hereos of the Winter Classic was NHL icemaker Dan Craig and his staff. They did the absolute best they could do in light of the difficult conditions they had to deal with. It really was an hour by hour change in the weather for the 3 days I was there. Overcast and drizzle one hour to bright warm sunshine the next to rain. Fans have no idea how much work needed to be done to get this ice playable for the game.
The rain and wind became a factor I believe as the game continued. By the end of the second period and most of the third period the rain was coming down pretty hard from the press box. The wind was picking up as well down at field level. Water was pooling in places at times but the puck kept moving and did not seem affected.
PH: If you were in charge of deciding where to put next year’s Winter Classic, where would you hold it and why?
SL: I think if they can make it work logistically the next Winter Classic should be played in New York. It is the league’s largest market, it is an original six franchise, and there are Ranger fans everywhere across America who would tune into the game.
Now I’ve gone back and forth on an opponent. Part of me feels a Western Conference team like the Kings or Sharks should come east and give it that coast-to-coast feel to it. After being in Pittsburgh and seeing the HBO special then I look at maybe another original six rival like the Blackhawks the league can push. They are a good team, have star power, and are coming off a Stanley Cup championship.
PH: Any other thoughts you’d like to share with Kukla’s Korner readers?
SL: After reading columns by journalists who were not at Heinz Field Saturday night who ripped this year’s Winter Classic I say shame on you! I have always said the Winter Classic was about the event. The games are not the best the NHL can offer the event itself is what makes it special.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.