Each year, two teams start off the new year on a ice surface very familiar to those playing, an outdoor rink. The 2011 NHL Winter Classic was the fourth edition of the annual outdoor ice hockey game held by the NHL as a regular season game. The Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on January 1, 2011 to a grand total of 68,111 cold hockey fans. Many people expected Sidney Crosby to be in the headlines, but not for the reasons most Penguins fans were hoping for.
It started late due to poor weather and ice conditions, perhaps an omen of things to come? At the end of the second period, Sidney Crosby was blindsided by then Washington Capital David Steckel with a hit to the head. The extent of the injury wasn’t known at first as Crosby finished the game. In fact, it was barely mentioned until about a week later when Crosby was taken out of hockey altogether from a seemingly innocent hit along the glass by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman. He played the next game against the Montreal Canadiens, but that would be his last of the 2010-2011 season.
NBC says the game was watched by 4.5 million people, earning a 2.3 rating and 4 share. The rating and share were up about ten percent from a year ago. The total viewers surpassed the 2009 Winter Classic (Detroit and Chicago at Wrigley Field), which was watched by 4.4 million people.
Eric Fehr scored two goals to lead the Capitals over the Penguins in the 2011 Winter Classic It’s not just a run of the mill win, though. All you have to do is look at the end of the game to know that this isn’t just another game. Yes, it’s obviously different than a normal game — it’s outside.
But the players don’t just brush this thing off as some gimmick. They genuinely want to win this thing more than the typical game. Alex Ovechkin was jumping up and down like a giddy little school girl as the final horn went off, as were the rest of the Capitals.
Even knowing they were going to lose with just under two seconds left, the Penguins didn’t just lie down and go home, either. Things got nasty in the latter stages of the game, with an attempted brawl breaking out before the final face off.
The story of the week in the run up to the game was the weather, and rain fell on the ice periodically throughout the game. The NHL has to be breathing a sigh of relief tonight, though, as the weather didn’t really impact the game. The ice wasn’t good, but it didn’t cause any injury and the game didn’t have to be called early. That’s really all they can ask for, right?
Pittsburgh still feels the affects of this game almost one year later, and possibly even longer.