The Winter Classic or Ice Bowl, as it was called here in Buffalo, will be one event I will remember forever. It was something anyone who has the chance to go see should not miss! The NHL really scored with the game in Buffalo. I had a great time and this is how it went all day.
I met up with a swimming teammate of mine at around 8:30am in our favorite tailgating spot for Bills games, the Twin Pine Motel. The parking is 3 dollars cheaper than everywhere else and it is fun walking through all the tailgaters to the stadium, it really gets you pumped up. Buffalo is the best place to tailgate and we do it right by starting early and having a great time! My friends had a fire going when we got there so the cold was not too much of an issue. We had the grill going later, and everyone was in a good mood. The lot really started to fill up at about 11, and we did not see any Pens fans until that time. Clearly they do not tailgate like Buffalonians! Once the Pens fans showed up, things became a little interesting. People from Buffalo love to heckle and annoy other fans, its how it goes here, and everyone was giving it to the Pens fans really bad. You have to have guts cheering for the other team here in Buffalo, but no offense to any Pens fans, but do not get mad when you get heckled. You're in our city, so you are going to get it from us. I would expect nothing less if I was in the Steel City.
At about 12:30, we packed up our things and started our hike to the stadium. I love that Ralph Wilson Stadium is in Orchard Park, because you feel like you are camping when you tailgate. If you are not wearing your waterproof boots, you feet are going to get terribly muddy and wet. The security lines were not too long once there, and the anticipation was building in me to get to my seat and see the ice.
Coming out of the tunnel to to stands and seeing the stadium filled, with the rink on the field was one of the most amazing sights to see. It was simply beautiful. My seat was in section 125 in the corner and the views were awkward at first. I felt far from the action at first, but once I got used to it, it was fine.
The pregame ceremony and opening was awesome. Sabres fans are so lucky to have Doug Allen and Ronan Tynon on occasion to sing the anthems. What a treat to share them with the world. I think my favorite part was the flyover with the helicopters, the stadium was roaring. No matter what your opinion is about the nation, the war, or the military; you have to agree seeing the helicopters was awesome!
While in the crowd, I think I saw more vintage Sabres jerseys than the "buffaslug." I hope Darcy Reiger and Larry Quinn take note that the Sabres looked fantastic in the vintage uniforms. The current ones simply do not compare to vintage at all, not even close. I understand that the slug was the best selling jersey last year and Sabres apparel dominated the sales, but the only place you could buy vintage gear was at HSBC Arena. I almost guarantee that given the choice between buying vintage and the slug, heavy majority would be vintage apparel. Nobody likes the slug at all, nobody. Even the Penguins power blue uniforms looked pretty cool. I also hope that the Sharks took note of the uniforms; that the vintage logo and jerseys looks much better than the current logo; not just for the Sabres, but also for the Sharks, and I hope the Sharks scrape their disgraceful logo and jerseys and go back to what they had.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game, the game was great, and I could see all the action just fine from my seats. The stoppages in play were a bit annoying, especially because it killed any momentum for either team, but it was a week-old rink, so it will have some issues. Like Lindy Ruff said, the atmosphere was incredible, simply incredible. It is awesome hearing 70,000 plus fans screaming "LET'S GO BUFFALO!" in unison. The fans here do not need to be provoked either by the organist. There was a few Pens fans in my section, and they would try to get a Let's go Pens chant going in between the Buffalo chants. I started hollering Let's Go Buffalo, soon others followed and drowned out the Pens fans. Nothing like a little competition between fans in the stands. I was a little ticked off about the end result of the game, but I suppose it was best for the league.
Overall, I would say the game is one of the best things I have ever experienced in my life thus far. The league has to do this every New Year's Day, it would be crazy not to. Now the reports that the t.v. viewers were the best since 1996, clearly show that non-hockey fans were tuning in and were interested. My friends from home in Arkansas were all tuned in as well. They kept texting me and letting me know that it looked awesome on tv and they would've loved to have been there as well.
An annual game outdoors on New Year's Day would be great for the league because it does compete well with college football bowl games. My only concern is that they seemed to focus all their attention on Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. I understand he is the poster-boy of the NHL, but if you want to promote the league, make sure you promote other teams and players. Do not just make it the Sidney Crosby show because that will be the only player non-hockey fans know and the Penguins would be the only team they seem to hear about or see on tv. Promote all teams in the league, and promote all players, not just the most recognized one right now. If you promote everyone, then all players will become recognized by non-hockey fans.
Maybe the game every New Year's Day could be the the two teams that competed for the Stanley Cup the previous year, and have the Stanley Cup in attendance on the field for non-hockey fans to see the greatest trophy in sports. Not only could it be the Winter Classic, but a rematch of the two teams would be a good story to follow and watch. The league scored big, and if they make this game a tradition, it will further increase hockey's popularity in the states.
I hope Bettman follows up his one smart decision thus far by having the game, by having it every New Year's Day, in different cities, with different teams, all outdoors. Maybe they could have more than one game, make it a double-header event in two cities. Whatever the league decides, they scored big this time and hopefully will continue the greatest event I have been at.
Sharks host Calgary tonight, and I hope that they continue this win streak at home and give the home fans something to cheer about. Make sure you tune in or call into the next SharksBuzz as well to discuss the Sharks! Go Sharks!