Finally, for the first time in a long time a meaningful game on January 1st being played in a football stadium before 73,000 fans. No this wasn't a bowl game or any of that "B.S.C.S." nonsense, but an NHL game in Orchard Park, N.Y. between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. You think hockey is dead, try explaining that one to those who braved the elements in Western New York at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, to watch this spectacle on ice.
Mind you these weren't just your die hard, hard core fans. There were 73,000 of them, including the millions watching at home who wished they'd scored those tickets and not to mention the 10,000 plus or so who watched the game from inside the Sabres home HSBC Arena. It's hard to believe that the NHL almost wanted to take hockey away from this city just four short years ago, because they put on one heck of a show. This was quite the awesome event to behold, from the excitement and atmosphere of the crowd, from the unique nature to mother nature and to those watching at home on NBCHD a special experience as well.
Oh yeah and the game was pretty sweet too. Fast paced, lots of hitting and the players really seemed to embrace it. The lone drawback was the unleveled surface which created elongated stoppages which took away a bit from the overall flow of the game. However, when they were out there playing, out in the open with the constant barrage of snow and the energy of the fans it was really something to see.
Colby Armstrong netted the first goal for Pittsburgh, 21 seconds into the first period to give the Pens the early lead. Both teams seemed to get much more acclimated to the environment and their surroundings in the second period, though both goals were scored on the left end of your TV screen, as Buffalo's Brian Campbell cranked home the Sabres first tally to knot things at 1-1.
Both goalies Ryan Miller for the Sabres and ex-Sabre Ty Conklin for the Pens, who'd had previous experience in the only two prior outdoor games to have been played in North America, had a solid day in net and took the game to a shootout.
With things tied at one a piece and the game on the line, as if it couldn't have been scriped any better, Sidney Crosby slipped the puck by Miller to make the Pens a winner.
Really though everyone was a winner on this day, from the Pens, to the Sabres, to the city of Buffalo, the NHL, NBC and most of all the fans. They'd be foolish not to try this again next New Year's Day or any other day, whether it's something at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Soldier Field or even Buffalo again, this is ultimately a winner for the NHL and hockey fans everywhere.