Thursday, January 6, 2011

The 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic – a CAPS Fan Perspective

The Winter Classic – Hockey Mecca for those dedicated and rich enough fans who are lucky enough to get a ticket or strong-arm family members into giving them a ticket. On January 1, 2011, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins met for a clash in Pensburgh.

I was a lucky person attended the event with my brother(Matt), sister-in-law (Renee), two cousins Lauren and Mike, and Mike’s girlfriend (Madison). I had a blast.

The result?

CAPS WON – 3-1.
Enough gloating.

On to the really important stuff…like the whole experience.

Pre-game Celebration: Over at Japers Rink, there was talk of a non-official, official party. Seems that some of the Caps fans didn’t want to pay the $100 for three drinks at the official fan party. So JP and Kevin Ewoldt came up with the splendid idea to gather Caps fans at the Hofbrauhaus ( on Pittsburgh’s South Side. I convinced the brother and sister-in-law that this was the place to be, so we trooped out at 7 PM for the festivities.

Dudes, let me tell you what, we got there about 7:30 and the Bier Hall was PACKED with CAPS RED. Packed! We got the last elbow room space at the wall bar right inside the entry way. For the next hour, we’d play official greeters of the non-official Caps New Year’s Eve party. I returned cheers from entering fans, exchanged high-fives, back pats, hugs, and well wishes. We made a couple of good buddies (Kevin from Reston, and Chris, alas a Pens fan.)

We eventually got a table in the dining room and drank, ate and made merry. M&R decided to hit the casino pre-midnight instead of wading back into the madness of the Bier Hall. My guesstimate is that the hall holds about 500 hundred. About 80% of that was wearing red. On the way out, there was a line about 50-60 deep of Caps fans trying to get in.

JP and Kevin – AWESOME idea. A+++

: So for the first time, the Winter Classic suffered a rain delay. The game, initially set for 1 PM, was moved to 8 PM to avoid the buckets of rain. For the days leading up to the game, Lauren and I traded phone calls on the weather status, which looked crappy and got progressively worse. From mere rain, it went to heavy downpours, and finally predictions of up to an inch of rain. We kept hoping the game would get pushed to Sunday, which promised to be 34 and sunny. No such luck. My sister-in-law ordered us red rain ponchos. Cool.

The powers-that-be at the NHL were not forthcoming on rain delay. At first, they said they would go hour to hour which sounded liking a losing proposition. Then they finally said the game could start as late as 8 PM. On Friday, they finally announced the 8 PM start. We shrugged our shoulders and got our game faces on.

The forecasters promised temperatures in the upper 30s by game start. Whoops - Mother Nature went all girl-like on us. Pre-game temperatures were in the low 50s. We dressed for the 30s and wind and rain, but the majority of moisture being generated pre-game was our own sweat. As we came around the front of the stadium (the river-facing gate) we got hit by a slight yet welcome breeze.

While we were in the NHL Experience thingy, someone told us that a squall line was due to come through around 8 PM. We shrugged our shoulders and made towards our gate.

The squall hit about 8:30-8:45. As luck would have it, we had very lucky seating (see the seating section below.) Alas, not so the more expensive tickets in the 100 section.

Between the 2nd and 3rd period, the winds started up and the temperature finally started to drop. But of course, as this was the day of contrary weather, the winds blew in from the east not the more normal west.

By the end of the game, the rain was continuing as the temperature continued to drop. After we got in my truck at about 11:30 PM, we were hit with freezing rain and then snow.

It was the best and worst weather Pittsburgh could throw at us.

Grade: C

: Section 223, Row P – you are the best seats ever.

We had marvelous seats in the second section of the first tier. The seats were in the enclosed end of Heinz field, and as we trooped up to our seats, wonders of wonders, we were under the overhang for the second tier – no getting wet for us! We were directly behind the Home (Penguins) goal. The only action we couldn’t see was anything directly at the goalie’s feet.

Our section, 223, was a majority of Caps fans. Our row had only one lone Penguin fan in it, my cousin Lauren. My other cousin and his girlfriend were in Row H, and lucky for them, just under the overhang as well.

Every Caps goal brought out an entire round of high-fiving and chanting – “C-A-P-S, CAPS, CAPS, CAPS!”

Great seats.

Grade: A

Fans: What can I say – the Caps fans rose to the occasion and were amazing! There was unity in our love of the team that Rocks the Red. I got more hugs and high-fives during the whole weekend than I did at my college graduation.

The Penguins fans seem to run the gamut from nice to indifferent to rabid to pure haters. I had one Pens fan (not my cousin) hug me and congratulate me after the game. On the trip out of Heinz Field, we ran into a couple of teenage haters who would be better served to expend their anger tracking down terrorists or cleaning out sewers. Someone with a few more psychology classes than me, offered up a “Flyers Suck” chant that diffused the situation. The people following our small army of combined fans out of the stadium seemed amazed at the rallying chant. But then, who doesn’t hate the Flyers?

Speaking of chanting, during the minutes leading up to the opening ceremonies, Caps and Pens fans exchanged cheers. One brave individual, wearing his Sabers Jersey and a ridiculous Mohawk hat, stood up and yelled during a lull, “Let’s go Buffalo!” Kudos to you, young man.

And jerseys – wow. The collection included:
• Team Canada
• Buffalo
• Maple Leafs
• Flyers (boo-hiss)
• ‘Canes
• Canucks
• Montreal
• Devils
• Sharks
• an Old Whalers
• A huge selection of vintage and current Pens jerseys
• Caps Winter Classic

Grade: Caps Fans/Other Fans – A
Pens Fans - B-

NHL Fan Experience/Village/Whatever the heck it was

Fail. So what do you get when you pack 70,000 people through a ¼ mile of service road around Heinz Field? Mass Hysteria.

This was by FAR the biggest disappointment of the whole event. Too many people in too small an area, and no way to get into any of the vendors or displays without throwing some hip checks.

The only ones enjoying the experience were the folks at the hot chocolate stand, because everyone was too hot to drink cocoa before the game.

One highlight was the face-painting stand. The Pens side of the stand was about 20 people. The Caps side of the stand, 3. Got my Weagle with glitter as did my sister-in-law. My brother opted for no glitter on his Weagle.

Grade: D-

Entertainment: I’m stumped when it comes to what the heck the NHL was thinking when it picked the bands. I mean, really, Styxx? I didn’t know until after the Classic that during the Steelers game, they have a video rally that uses “Renegade” as the music theme. Okaaaaaaaaaaaay. Got it. Wasn’t anywhere as good as the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park where they sang “Sweet Caroline” between the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Hinder was okay, not what I would have picked. And the Clarks – the poor Clarks. A local Pittsburgh band that was all but drowned in the squall that started during their 1st/2nd period intermission show. Bless your hearts.

Steven Page singing the Canadian National Anthem, brilliant. I love to sing “O Canada, which is set in a reasonable octave, unlike the United States National Anthem which is best performed drunk or by howlers monkeys, or perhaps drunk howler monkeys.” Jackie Evancho, from America’s Got Talent, the precocious twelve year old, managed to mangle the word “perilous”, but didn’t flinch when the Caps fans belted out “red” as in “rockets RED glare.”

The best band of the Classic was a band performing outside in the “Experience” zone. Alas, I didn’t hang around due to the whole salmon swimming upstream effect.

The only good thing to say is that the entertainers were a step up from Chaka Khan at the 2010 NHL Awards show.

Grade: C
Wrap-up: Blast, blast, blast! It was for the most part, freakin' awesome! Applause to the organizers, the teams, the fans, and my family for a great 2 day Caps adventure!