PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh is making a strong push to play host to the NHL’s next Winter Classic on Jan. 1, matching the league’s two signature stars in the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin at Heinz Field.
The Penguins played in the first Winter Classic played on U.S. ice in Buffalo in 2008, but the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry has become so big that the NHL is believed to be favouring a second Penguins appearance in four years.
A person with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Sunday that Pittsburgh is in a strong position to be chosen as the host.
The league commonly does not reveal the Winter Classic site until after the Stanley Cup playoffs, but league officials and the Penguins have not denied speculation the game will be played in the Steelers’ stadium. Penguins president David Morehouse began lobbying for the game in discussions with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman months ago.
Penguins officials declined Sunday to discuss a possible Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.
However, Pittsburgh city officials are pushing hard for the city to be chosen, and the Steelers are amenable to playing the game at Heinz Field. Previously, the Pittsburgh Pirates lobbied for a Winter Classic at PNC Park, but its capacity of 38,496 is far below Heinz Field’s 65,050 and thus would generate far less revenue, and it is not being considered.
Yankee Stadium was discussed as a possible Winter Classic site next season, until the stadium landed a college bowl game that will be played the week after Christmas.
A Ovechkin-Crosby outdoors game would offer the NHL’s much attractive matchup.
Crosby and Ovechkin have combined to win the last three MVP awards – Crosby in 2007, Ovechkin in 2008 and 2009-and the two Eastern Conference players have formed the NHL’s equivalent of the NBA’s Kobe Bryant-LeBron James rivalry.
The Penguins and Capitals met in the playoffs last season, with the Penguins rallying to win one of the league’s most competitive early round series in years by taking Game 7 in Washington.
Ovechkin and Crosby also were rivals during the recent Winter Olympics, with Crosby-led Canada beating Ovechkin-led Russia 7-3 in the quarter-finals en route to winning the gold medal.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he has no problems with his team being selected for the game, although he’d liked to see Washington considered as the host city.
“I’d like to be involved with it,” Boudreau said before Sunday’s game against Calgary. “Why would I be opposed to it? Like anything else, if we were lucky enough to be involved in that game, I’d love to have it in our area to show the country how good of fans we have, but that’s not for me to decide.”
Staging the Winter Classic at Heinz Field the weekend before the NFL playoffs begin would mean the Steelers could not play home games on the final two Sundays of the regular season so that the ice surface could be constructed.
However, the NFL stages Thursday night games during the final two months of the season, so there is a possibility the Steelers could play at home on Thursday, Dec. 23, before turning the stadium over to the NHL. There would be time to convert the stadium back to football in time for any playoff game the following weekend, even if the Winter Classic must be postponed one day to Jan. 2 because of bad weather.
The Steelers already know they must play two of the first three weeks of the season on the road so they don’t conflict with Pirates home games, so playing a late-season Thursday game would prevent them from playing an extended stretch on the road to end the season.
Holding the Winter Classic on its home field might require the Steelers to replace the grass field before any playoff game, but the team often replaces all or part of the turf late in the season.