Exactly 10 years after they helped started an NHL New Year’s Day tradition, the Buffalo Sabres will return to outdoor hockey tomorrow at Citi Field, home of the MLB’s New York Mets, as they take on the New York Rangers, a team that is perfect in outdoor competition. My hair is already turning gray to begin with, and the realization that the first Winter Classic was a decade ago tomorrow has only accelerated that process.
The inaugural NHL regular season outdoor game on American soil still stands up as one of, if not the greatest played. Snow rained mightily as more than 70,000 fans watched Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins defeat Ryan Miller and the Sabres in a shootout after a tense and tight game at Orchard Park’s then-Ralph Wilson Stadium. The game saw a plethora of memorable moments, including Colby Armstrong scoring 20 seconds in, Adam Mair absolutely leveling Western New York native Brooks Orpik, and the image of the Sabres thanking Miller after Olympic diver Crosby scored the winner.
Not many outdoors games since have come close to capturing the magic of that atmosphere. The Sabres and Rangers are hoping to do that tomorrow.
Jason Pominville, who became Buffalo’s longest tenured player when he was reacquired this summer, is the only member of the Sabres who was on that 2008 team.
“I never thought I’d have to put the jersey on again and get the chance to do that and find out that you’re playing in the Winter Classic,” he said to The Sporting News‘ Evan Sporer. “And it’s the 10-year anniversary — that didn’t cross my mind — to have a chance to do it, it’s pretty unique for sure.”
The season has been good to Ryan McDonagh and the Rangers, who sit at fourth in the Metropolitan Division and hold one of the East’s two Wild Card spots. The same cannot be said for the Sabres, who currently hold the NHL’s second worst record and occupy the cellar, despite Jack Eichel’s best efforts. Buffalo has been slightly better lately, but Phil Housley’s team still has a long, long way to climb to get back to ground level.
Buffalo has a tall task as the Rangers are the more experienced outdoor team, and have never lost when playing without a roof. The team defeated the Flyers 3-2 in the 2012 Winter Classic and went 2-0 in the 2014 Stadium Series, defeating both of their crosstown rivals in the Islanders and Devils. Technically the team did lose to the Kings in 1991’s preseason outdoor game in Las Vegas, but nobody counts that.
King Henrik and Let ‘Em In Lehner are almost certain to be your starting netminders. New York’s leading scoring is RW Mats Zuccarello with 29 points, Buffalo’s is Eichel with 35. Despite the game being in Ranger territory, Buffalo is designated as the home team. Keeping with tradition, both teams are wearing slight reversions of throwback jerseys, Buffalo’s from the 70’s, New York’s from the 20’s and 30’s.
Sadly, an alumni game is not scheduled this year for reasons that have never been clarified. It would have been cool to see the likes of Gilbert Perreault and Dave Andreychuk go up against the likes of Mark Messier and Mike Richter.
Both teams were given the chance to skate on the ice with their families this morning, which is cool. New York is the far superior team headed into the game and are without a doubt the favorites. As a Sabres fan, I don’t expect them to win. I’ll be satisfied with a good showing.
Puck drop is at 1:00 PM ET on NBC. Don’t miss out!
Happy New Year!