Winter Classic turned into a showcase on slush

The Capitals defeat the Penguins under the lights at Heinz Field.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 12:11 AM


Like many a good party, the NHL's Winter Classic here Saturday night was marred a bit by the lack of one simple yet crucial ingredient: ice.

Both teams slogged through some Slushie-like conditions on the temporary rink at Heinz Field before the Capitals came away with a 3-1 victory over the Penguins.

Afterward, owner Ted Leonsis, wearing a bright red sweater and an ear-to-ear grin, was the only member of Washington's entourage who was happy with the ice. The result might have had something to do with that.

"It was the greatest [ice] I've ever experienced," Leonsis said.

Would he like to hold this event in Washington? "Let's go back out and play another one now!"

That's an attitude Gary Bettman will love. The commissioner said after the game that the league office closely monitored conditions. "This is reality hockey when you take it outdoors," he said. "It becomes a little unpredictable."

It's unfair to expect Bettman to be Mr. Freeze, but if the league is going to bill the Winter Classic as its Super Bowl, it's going to need to handle the event with care. The weather was not a deciding factor; no one was injured as a result of soft ice. But the league may have missed a chance to bring some non-hockey fans into the fold - and if you think that's not part of the purpose of this game, then think again.

Despite the switch in start times from day to night, the event itself was a lot of fun - 68,111 fans of both teams thought so - and it wasn't a boring game by any means. But it rained during the morning, the temperature was 59 degrees around 3 p.m. and had only fallen to 52 when the puck dropped. Then came the third period, half of which was played in a heavy rain that caused the puck to shoot up plumes of water as it slid across the ice. Still, players agreed that the ice hardened as the game went on.

"The first period was soft," defenseman Scott Hannan said. "The second and third were better. It's good to get that game finished."

"It got better as the game went on," defenseman John Carlson said. "The ice was bumpy, no potholes, no bad bounces."

Granted, it's unfair to complain about the weather for a hockey game after flooding in California, tornadoes in the Midwest and blizzards in the Northeast. But if you're going to stage an outdoor hockey game you'd better hold it somewhere with some guaranteed ice and snow, like Manhattan, or the Metrodome.

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