In a little less than 36 hours the Pittsburgh Penguins will square off against the Washington Capitals in the fourth annual Winter Classic. This will mark the second Winter Classic game for the Penguins, who played in the inaugural edition in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, NY against the Buffalo Sabres.
Pittsburgh won their previous Winter Classic clash 2-1 in an overtime shootout, thanks to the skills of Sidney Crosby, and look to upend the Alex Ovechkin led Capitals on New Year's Day, 2011 at 1p EST on NBC.
Speaking of Ovechkin and Crosby, the two superstar icers will provide the main story line for this year's battle. As Eastern Conference foes they've met not only countless times in the regular season but also in the playoffs. Olympic games have also been part of their match ups.
NHL executives were likely caught off-guard a few years ago when the notion of an outdoor hockey game on New Year's Day was first proposed. I can imagine the conversation:
Proposer: "There's nothing better going on to bring in the New Year, how about we play outside like the good ol' days?!?"
Naysayer: "You mean there aren't four or five college football games already? Have they been cancelled?"
Proposer: "Well, you see we could play early in the day to not compete with fans interested in those games"
Naysayer: "Does the word hangover mean anything to you? Who is going to wake up at noon to watch a hockey game?"
Well, it probably did not go exactly like that but you get the idea. No one expected the game to garner as much appeal as it has. In fact, last year's game between Philadelphia and Boston at Fenway Park in Boston was the top trending topic on Twitter. This year, with the side story of Crosby v. Ovechkin, viewership and fan interest is likely to expand upon last year's game.
HBO got into the mix by featuring a behind the scenes documentary on the Capitals and Penguins rivalry. The series, dubbed 24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic, has followed both franchises throughout the 2010-2011 season thus far as they approach their January 1 contest.
Heinz Field, home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, will play host to what NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins thinks could be the "best of all" Winter Classic. With revenues growing over $330MM in the past three years there is surely momentum behind Saturday's match up.
In 2008 the Penguins donned vintage throwbacks that became very popular amongst Penguins and NHL fans alike.
Fast forward to Saturday's game and the Penguins will also wear throwbacks, but they'll be slightly different than the 2008 model that also saw ice time in 2009 and 2010. Follow this link for a sample of what Sidney Crosby's jersey will look like.
This year's jersey design is a tribute to the team's original logo from the 1967-68 season. Not to be outdone, the Capitals will also wear throwbacks from their early years (1974 to be exact) in a tribute to their past.
But the real story will be the battle between Crosby and Ovechkin. Crosby, to date, has won the more high profile games/series, leading his Penguins to a Game 7 victory over the Capitals in the 2008-09 season en route to a Stanley Cup Championship and a Team Canada victory over Team Russia in the 2010 Olympics.
Ovechkin will certainly have payback on his mind as he takes on Sidney and the Penguins on Saturday.