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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Talent Network at the 2011 Winter Classic Press Conference at Heinz Field

July 27, 2010
Posted By - Lauren Norris and Emma Venezie


Although it may be hard to imagine falling snow and bitter temperatures while in the midst of this July heat, that’s exactly what a lot of Pittsburgh was talking about today. Beginning on January 1, 2008, the NHL began an annual tradition of holding a regular season game on New Year’s Day on an outdoor ice rink. The Penguins played in that inaugural game against the Buffalo Sabres and won in a shootout, with much of the game being played during a swirling snowstorm. Since then, the game has been held in Chicago at Wrigley Field and in Boston at Fenway Park. The NHL 2011 Winter Classic official press conference took place today at Heinz Field, which will be the site of the game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals on January 1, 2011. Talent Network was among the media in attendance, and is thrilled to be able to bring you a behind-the-scenes recap of the event.

The press conference was emceed by Doc Emerick and in attendance were NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Penguins Owner Mario Lemieux, Penguins President David Morehouse, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero, Steelers President Art Rooney II, Mayor of Pittsburgh Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Penguins players Sidney Crosby, Max Talbot, and Pascal Dupuis, Capitals President Dick Patrick, Capitals General Manager George McPhee and Capital players Mike Knuble and David Steckel. Behind the platform hung banners, unveiling the 2011 Winter Classic logo, as well as retro logos for both the Capitals and the Penguins. Although team uniforms were not revealed (as many hoped would be), the retro logos may be a good indication that there could be throwback uniforms worn by each team for the game.

When we first arrived, we were directed to the club level which overlooks the field. Here, we were able to take aerial photos of how the field is to be set up for the 2011 Winter Classic game. After we took some pictures, we checked back in to the Media Room, and waited for 'game time.' The press conference was held outside, in the middle of the field, exactly where the rink will be set up for the game in January. It was admittedly hard to imagine a frozen hockey rink in the middle of the field while the sun was beating down on us, but it was awesome to see the layout for what should be an epic game.

Art Rooney II, Steelers President, spoke about his trepidation regarding building the ice rink on the field and then being able to remove it in time for the remainder of the football season. He said his worries were quickly calmed by the NHL, and he is now excited and proud to host the NHL and the Penguins for the 2011 Winter Classic. This Winter Classic should be one for the record books, as attendance is expected to be the second largest in the game’s 4 year history. The 2008 Winter Classic, held at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, NY, had 71, 217 people in attendance, the most-ever to watch an NHL game live. The 2011 Winter Classic should come in second, as Heinz Field holds 65,050, with the 2009 game at Wrigley Field in Chicago coming in third with 40,818 in attendance, and 2010's Winter Classic at Fenway Park coming in fourth with 38,112 in attendance.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman pointed out, "If you love rivalries, Capitals/Penguins may be our best." He said that the demand for tickets for the Winter Classic games usually reaches into the hundreds of thousands, and tickets always sell out. He instructed fans that the best way to get tickets, and receive information alerts about ticket sales, is to sign up on NHL.com for 'Winter Classic Alerts'. And it's best not to miss out, because, as Bettman says, this game is "a must-see moment."

Through the 2011 Winter Classic, David Morehouse proclaimed that “we finally found a way to get the Steelers and the Penguins together." And though Pittsburgh is generally known as a football town, Morehouse says that "Pittsburgh has now become a hockey town, and it will always be a hockey town." He may be biased, but there is research to prove he’s onto something. ESPN the Magazine recently released their “Ultimate Standings 2010” – a ranking of all 122 professional sports franchises in the U.S. and Canada in the following categories: Bang for the Buck, Fan Relations, Ownership, Affordability, Stadium Experience, Players, Coaches and Title Track. The Pittsburgh Penguins were ranked #5 overall, among all teams and leagues (the Steelers were ranked #28) and #1 in fan relations, #3 in ownership, #5 in players, and #5 in title track. 

The 2011 Winter Classic should prove to be a real boost for the city, and it will not be merely a one day event; it will be a "week-long celebration of hockey in Pittsburgh," according to Morehouse. It will include the city's youth and high school hockey teams utilizing outdoor ice facilities around the city, "as it was supposed to be played," according to County Executive Dan Onorato.

The last to speak was the Washington Capitals President, Dick Patrick, who said that the team is excited to be included in the 2011 Winter Classic and knows that the city of Pittsburgh will be hospitable. He predicted "a lot of red shirts in those gold seats”; hopefully Pittsburgh fans can snatch up tickets quickly and prove him wrong!

After the press conference, there was a group photo, and then the group moved onto the field where interviews were taking place. There were a few more photo ops before a 'puck-field goal' contest was held between the players. There was a launching pad set up on the field facing one of the goal posts and the players had to shoot the puck through the uprights. It was a lot of fun to watch and, as most people would expect, Sid shot a puck through from the 50 yard line!

As we walked off the field, goodie boxes full of gifts were handed to us. In them were hats, t-shirts, felt pendants, and miniature hockey sticks, all with the 2011 Winter Classic logo on them. Not to be made to feel left out, Crosby, Dupuis and Talbot were all given the same gift boxes.

I know it’s hard to imagine ice and snow outside in the middle of this summer heat wave, but who’s ready for hockey and pumped for the game?!

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