First-hand: An L.A. Kings Fan’s Experience at the 2011 Winter Classic

2011 Winter Classic Ice Sculpture

On December 30th, I (along with the Crowned Royaler known as “The Mouth”) took to the skies in search of some outdoor hockey at Heinz Field. The trip was a blast and left me with images that I will never forget. Some good, some lame, but in the end, hockey prevailed.

Here is the experience as noted by a Kings fan.

  • Pittsburgh weather sucks. It was cold and rainy (30s – 50s…it really ranged). I know that some East Coasters will say: “That’s not cold at all.”  Well, I’m from a beautiful, warm land called Los Angeles where that’s considered freezing. It wasn’t picturesque weather at all, which you saw from the telecast.
  • Pittsburgh has stupid alcohol laws. You can’t buy booze in regular stores out there. No picking up a 40 at 7-11. You have to go to a beer distributor to buy beer, and the distributor is on the other side of the city. Naturally. We skipped it and bought a 6-pack of Iron City Light at the bar (think Bud Light) for a whopping $12.
  • Finding a bar with NHL Center Ice out there is as rare as finding an Ovechkin fan (more on that in a minute). Our first night, we wanted to watch the Kings/Flyers game. After a 20-bar search (literally) came up unsuccessful, we were forced to go back to the hotel to listen to the game on The Mouth’s iPhone. Without beer, of course. This was shocking to us considering what a hockey town Pittsburgh boasts itself to be.  A bar isn’t a bar in LA unless it has NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB packages.  This city didn’t even have the game of their cross-state rival.  A bit shocking and very disappointing.  We didn’t miss much of a game though, sadly (since it was the game the Kings lost 7-4).
  • Crosby, Crosby, Crosby. You would think the city was run by NBC. I would guess 90% of the Penguin jerseys we saw were Crosby jerseys, 8% Lemieux, 2% Malkin. How boring. I find it somewhat difficult to crown a favorite jersey amongst Kings fans. A lot of Kopitars, Doughtys, Simmonds, Browns…practically everyone on the team is a fan favorite. It seemed like fans were more Crosby fans than Penguin fans.
  • Their fans really like Kopitar. I was sporting my Kopitar sweater for most of the trip, and was stopped by both Pens and Caps fans alike. The one thing they all agreed on that weekend: Kopitar is sick.
  • Their sandwiches are amazing. No explanation needed. Great food.
  • Don La Greca thinks the Kings will go far this year. In a (somewhat alcohol-altered) conversation with the NHL Live host at the Versus New Years Eve Party (don’t ask how we got in, I still don’t know), La Greca had some nice things to say about the Kings. He, like all of us, is impressed by the young core along with the veteran presence of Smyth and Williams.
  • NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was drunk as a skunk on New Years Eve while holding his baby. It was pretty strange to see that
  1. Such a high profile individual with the league would be drunk in front of everyone.
  2. He did it with a baby in his arms. It’s the party celebrating the most important game of the year for the NHL – get a babysitter, Daly. Then again, he’s used to babysitting an even smaller baby, Gary Bettman.
  • Gary Bettman really is small. Like 5’4 small. Would fit easily into a kangaroo’s pouch. Or nestled between Chris Pronger’s two front teeth. And for the second time, he completely ignored me when I tried to talk to him. A lot of hate from a lot of people will do that to you, I guess.
  • Penguin fans don’t like Alex Ovechkin. Like, REALLY hate him. Like they want to kill him. Like I think they actually might kill him if they could, and would give each other jumping high-fives if they did kill him. OK, I’m all for a great rivalry. I love hating on a team (coughDUCKScough). But, I feel like a lot of Penguins fans take for granted the fact that they regularly get to see the two best players in the world play against each other. Maybe I would feel differently if Crosby was playing for Anaheim. I just felt like they were missing out on a truly amazing opportunity that NHL historians will be writing about for decades. Or until the sport dies next year after another work stoppage.
  • Cotton = snow. If you watched the Winter Classic, you noticed all of that beautiful white snow surrounding the ice at Heinz Field. It was cotton. Smart move by NBC to make it look wintery. I do the same thing when I set up my Christmas Village on top of my mantle every year.
  • Coolest jersey award:  5-year old girl in an Arron Asham practice jersey.
  • Worst jersey award:  All the fans who bought the Winter Classic Mario Lemieux jersey.  Nice jersey, however Lemieux wore the Pens’ first Winter Classic jersey during the alumni game.  He also wore a suit on the ice during the pregame festivities, unlike when Bobby Orr wore a new Classic jersey at Fenway.  So, nice tribute, however, it’s a jersey foul.
  • Heinz Field is awesome. This was my first event there, but what a view. We sat up at the top (corner) and had a great shot of the whole ice. It has to be a great place to see a football game.
  • Outdoor hockey is amazing. There’s something about seeing hockey while seeing your breath that makes it seem right. The rain and wind, however, wasn’t that awesome.
  • The Winter Classic is the coolest gimmick event out there. Nothing would be exciting about an outdoor basketball game.  Or an indoor baseball game.  Or an indoor football game. But an outdoor hockey game? There is no comparison. I hope every hockey fan gets to experience it at least once.

In all, it was a great weekend.  Had some good food, good booze, and most importantly, saw a hockey game that I will never forget.

I may not remember the score in 40 years or the fact that Eric Fehr was the dominant factor. But, I will always remember that freezing night in Pittsburgh where I saw the two greatest players on the planet battle it out in front of 70,000 fans at Heinz Field.

And that’s what it’s all about.

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