“Happy New Year!”
That’s what fans, players and coaches alike will be saying at midnight on December 31st.
And just 12 hours later, the NHL will begin its coverage of the 10th Annual Winter Classic game.
In the NHL’s official press release regarding the event, Commissioner Gary Bettman had this to say. “The Winter Classic made its debut under snowy Buffalo skies in 2008, and we look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of that landmark event by matching the Sabres with their intrastate rivals, the New York Rangers, in the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field.”
WINTER CLASSIC HISTORY
On January 1, 2008, the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins met inside Ralph Wilson Stadium — home of the Buffalo Bills — and contested a classic in front of 71,217 exuberant fans. The Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout.
Four years later, the Blueshirts took on the Philadelphia Flyers at Citizens Bank Park on January 2, 2012. The Rangers won the game 3-2; launching a three-game win-streak when playing outdoors.
BLUESHIRTS STADIUM SERIES
On January 26 and 29, 2014, the 7th Avenue Skaters faced the Devils and Islanders at Yankee Stadium. The Blueshirts won by scores of 7-3 (Devils) and 2-1 (Islanders).
The Rangers have three players on their current roster that participated in that trio of games: Marc Staal, Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan McDonagh. And each of these veterans is looking forward to their fourth such experience. (Note: Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash played in the two games at Yankee Stadium.)
In preparation for the upcoming game, the Blueshirts took to Lasker Rink — in the North end of Central Park — to start getting themselves acclimated with playing outdoors.
While many of the players grew up skating on frozen ponds, it’s been awhile since they’ve done so.
LASKER RINK PRACTICE — RYAN MCDONAGH
On Saturday December 2, 2017, a couple thousand fans gathered at the famous rink to watch their beloved team practice under the open sky. It was the first time in franchise history that the team had skated at Lasker, and most hope it won’t be the last.
Captain Ryan McDonagh went on record saying: “I’d like to see us turn this into a yearly tradition. Even if we’re not playing in an outdoor game.”
Many of his teammates echoed that sentiment as they fondly recalled skating with their families on frozen ponds while growing up.
McDonagh reminisced about his family’s outdoor skating experiences. “This brings back memories of when I was a kid skating outside with my family. We’d put on the skates, hats and mittens and be out there for hours. It’s a really unique experience.”
While the team captain was recalling his childhood, he was also quick to point out that this isn’t just fun and games.
“We got a lot of work done today. The Winter Classic is a month away but it comes up on you quickly.”
LASKER RINK PRACTICE — JIMMY VESEY
Meanwhile, Jimmy Vesey was quick to tell the media that he and some of his teammates actually took the New York City subway to get to the rink; in full uniform no less.
“We got off the subway — in full hockey gear — and yeh there were some looks, but for the most part it went alright. The fans on the subway were excited to see us.”
That must have been some sight for those lucky fans.
Vesey was also quick to point out, “being outside added a little hop to our step during practice. It’s not something we normally do.”
The Harvard grad also had fond memories of skating outdoors when he was a child.
“It was just like being out there with my dad and brother growing up.”
And Jimmy made a very interesting observation, “this rink isn’t the same dimensions that we normally skate on. It made practice interesting, but it all worked out.”
It sure did. The players, fans and coaches were all thrilled with how the day unfolded. And this was just the beginning.
The Road to the Winter Classic is here and the Blueshirts are barreling towards it with unbridled enthusiasm.