PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Pouring rain was a welcome sight when Sidney Crosby got out of bed on New Year’s morning and looked out his window.
With the NHL deciding to push back the start of Saturday’s Winter Classic until 8 p.m. ET, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain was hoping the rain would come early and disappear in time for the temporary ice surface to be prepared at Heinz Field.
“I would have probably been thinking something if I woke up and it was clear and sunny,” Crosby said Saturday morning. “We all expected that. I think everyone’s confident that everyone taking care of the ice is going to do what they have to do.
“You know, we’re going out there to play. That’s what we’ve got to worry about.”
Players from both teams seemed quite comfortable after being put through a morning skate at Consol Energy Center. In fact, many seemed happy the game’s afternoon start had been changed because it allowed them to fall into a more familiar routine.
Rain fell hard on Heinz Field throughout Saturday morning but it started to subside in the early afternoon. NHL ice guru Dan Craig and his crew used a Zamboni to help remove excess water from the ice surface.
If they aren’t able to get it ready in time for the game, the league has the option to push the event back until Sunday—although they’ll do everything they can to get it in on Saturday night.
The Penguins and Capitals each practised at Heinz Field on Friday and generally seemed content with the quality of the ice. Even though it isn’t up to the same standard of most NHL buildings, that’s to be expected when you play outdoors.
“Any ice is good ice,” said Capitals forward Brooks Laich. “The ice I grew up playing on, we had a tractor until I was about 19 years old flooding the ice back home. I think we’re pretty spoiled with the rinks we get to play on all year long.
“A little bad ice here or there shouldn’t deter us at all.”
The Penguins took part in the Winter Classic three years ago in Buffalo—a game that had some delays because of snow and poor ice quality. Crosby believes that experience will help the team in this situation.
“I think just you have to keep a pretty open mind about everything and not getting too caught up if there’s delays,” he said. “(We’re) pretty much expecting that. I think you’re better off expecting that—if you don’t (have one), it’s great. If you do, at least you’re ready for it.”
Added Capitals forward Mike Knuble. “Everybody’s in the same boat. You can’t be worried about it and everyone else is passing you by.”
After the morning skate, the players returned to their homes or the team hotel for a typical pre-game nap. There were no plans to spend the afternoon watching the weather.
“We’re not checking the weather forecast—the coaches, players,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “We’re not talking about it. We are getting ready to play an eight o’clock game tonight. … We’re looking forward to it.”