NHL commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday announced the addition of an outdoor game to the 2007-08 season as a way to take hockey into the elements and “have some fun.”
The New Year’s Day game between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins is expected to break league attendance records by attracting 74,000 hardy fans to Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Buffalo Bills’ home field in suburban Orchard Park. Turning the turf field into a rink includes installing a refrigeration system to make the ice and will start the day after the Bills’ Dec. 23 home game. Buffalo was chosen for its dependably cold winters and proximity to Pittsburgh, whose fans are expected to make the 225-mile trip in droves. The NHL already is making plans for buses and hotels for fans.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was in net for Michigan State for its 2001 outdoor “Cold War” with Michigan, when shadows and wind were unique challenges. “I got off the ice after that game and I was red in the face windburned and my toes were frozen,” Miller said. “I’m hoping I learned a little bit and can make some adjustments and figure out how to stay warm.”
It will be the second time the league staged such an event in the regular season. The Montreal Canadiens faced the Oilers outside on a November day in Edmonton in 2003 before 57,000 fans.
“We all watched the Edmonton-Montreal game,” Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby said. “We’ve all prepared for this at some point in our careers, playing outside, so I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for us and for the fans.”