When the Penguins played in the first NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo in 2008 there were very few activities surrounding the game but that will be very different this time around. Public skating on the rink built outside of Heinz Field opened Christmas Eve and a full schedule of youth and minor league hockey games on the same ice began Sunday. Winter Classic themed events will be part of the First night celebration, college hockey will take center stage at the CONSOL Energy Center Thursday and on the ice inside Heinz Field, an old timers game featuring the likes of Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis and Bill Guerin will face off Friday morning.
Penguins CEO David Morehouse says Pittsburgh had a lot of stuff going on already and the team wanted to be part of it. “With the location of the stadium being downtown kind of adjacent to all of these other activities, it was important to tie them all together. So you have a lot of cultural things happening in the cultural district between Christmas and New Year’s, you have the First Night Celebration New Year’s Eve and we have a great expansion of hockey interest in the region so its not just about the Penguins,” says Morehouse.
Morehouse says the idea of having a Winter Classic in Pittsburgh was born on the day of the first classic. He says during the game he went down from his box to talk to NHL Commissioner Gary Betman about bringing the game to Pittsburgh. “The first thing he said was he thought it would be interesting,” says Morehouse, “but neither one of us knew it was going to be the great success it was, so after that first game in Buffalo everyone else wanted it and it became impossible to get it right away.” Morehouse says he continued to “bug” Betman and finally got the game.
Morehouse says the event will not disappoint, “It’s a great matchup to have Washington and us play in the Winter Classic, Pittsburgh is a great city to host it in, the Steelers with their great traditions and history, it’s a great venue.”