Sunday, January 02, 2011

The 2011 Winter Classic - AWESOME

Hey puckers! I'm back in Washington, DC after spending most of the past week in Pittsburgh for the final leg of coverage of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. As the Washington Capitals correspondent for The Hockey Writers, I received credentials to go cover the event and traveled to Pittsburgh to take advantage of my position to give you all the best coverage possible.

I just have to say off the bat that the whole thing was fantastic. From the first day I got there, from getting booed coming off the plane in Pittsburgh because I had on my red scarf and red Winter Classic t-shirt, to going to Quaker Steak & Lube for a 22 ounce Yuengling and some awesome wings, I totally was eating up all of my early experiences in the Steel City.

I got about one hour of sleep before the alumni game the following morning, as it started at 9:30 a.m., and then met up to drive into 45-minute traffic on the bridge to the Caps and Pens alumni game. I completely enjoyed watching Jay Caufield from the Pens' squad drop down and block a shot late in the game. However, nothing was cooler in the alumni game than watching former Capital Peter Bondra get the game-tying goal for a 5-5 final. Even better? Going down and interviewing him. I'm sure he doesn't remember a twelve-year-old me, asking for an autograph, but it was definitely a flashback in time for me there. Of course, though, I kept the journalist hat on and did my job.

It was New Year's Eve on the same day of the alumni game, and since the main event on New Year's Day was moved to 8 p.m. because of the weather, I decided to take advantage of some extra time, as I wasn't due to write again until after the game. So I hit up one of my sources and found a cool little house party to go to. It was here where I learned that some of the people from Pittsburgh, even the Penguins fans, although disappointed that I grew up a Caps fan from DC, were pretty cool and open to discussion. Certainly not as bitter and as mean as I remembered them from my childhood...

I finally got a few more hours of sleep, and then woke up to Winter Classic coverage. All day long, NBC showed clips of past Winter Classics, along with discussion about the Caps and Penguins. It was really awesome, even though I think they got so much wrong about the focus of the game i.e. setting things up for failure by hyping up Sid/Ovie more than 100 times. I knew I'd do the game justice whatever the outcome was anyway.

With the stadium lights on, 65,111 fans in hockey jerseys filling the stands, the noise, and the importance of the game, the setting for Winter Classic was complete. The playoff and borderline Super Bowl atmosphere matched the the hype associated with this grandiose event all for a regular season game. I couldn't tell you how unreal it was to see that many Caps and Penguins fans get together for a regular season game, and how pretty the view was. I was already proud to be covering such a proud moment for hockey fans and the game.

The game itself ended up living up to the intensity as well. John Erskine and Michael Rupp fought in the first period, the puck sloshed on the wet ice from the rain that began to pour about mid-way through the game, and even though the ice quality was poor both teams still found opportunities to buzz around the net at times. All of this was way cool, even as Ovechkin and Crosby did not score a point. Unfortunately, the mainstream media, as well as fans who were told to expect big numbers in the game, will look at that as a failure. But for hockey fans and anyone that knows better, this game was a solid one (no pun intended) and the Caps earned the 3-1 victory and the two points.

I typed up my post-game article after going down to the locker and news conference rooms to grab interviews, and didn't get done until about 1 or 1:30 in the morning. After that, I took my last trip into Pittsburgh debauchery and had another great time.

Finally today, I helped out freelancer Mike Asti with a Winter Classic recap video and passed the time before my 6:30 p.m. (that became a 7:10 p.m.) flight. The video was definitely a great way to cap off the trip, talking about probably the most exciting events I have ever covered as a young hockey writer with NHL credentials. I definitely will consider going to future Winter Classics and covering them, and now we know that The Hockey Writers have a positive reputation with the NHL!

... Oh yeah, my awesomeness didn't end there though: on my flight back to DC as we entered into the terminal to board the plane, I saw a pack of Caps fans in front of me, and I said, loudly, "Let's Go Caps!" Soon enough, we had a short burst of "Lets Go Caps!" and "C-A-P-S, Caps, Caps, Caps!" chants to go around. Even better, unlike my first flight where I sat behind a whole family of Penguins fans, I sat next to a Caps fan, who was extremely knowledgeable and could relate to everything I was saying about the team's past. It was pretty fun to talk hockey with a fan, especially the group of guys that joined my Caps chants being entirely belligerent all the way in the back. Nonetheless, it was great, and my trip proved to be worthwhile from top to bottom, all the way down to my plane ride home.

Talking with NHL media personalities and writers that I've read growing up, networking and meeting other writers, sort of bonding with the DC folks that give great coverage on the Capitals regularly, and making some friends was an added bonus to the fun

So I'm going to sleep for a few hours, because just like the Caps and Pens, I have to go right back to work, right away...

*All photos were taken by The Hockey Writers own Tom Turk*

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