Heinz 'in' place to be Jan. 1

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David Morehouse, president of the Penguins, planted the notion of the 2011 Winter Classic coming to Pittsburgh nearly 21/2 years ago -- the day of the first outdoor NHL game in this series.

"Right before the game started, I was standing next to commissioner [Gary] Bettman, and I said, 'We want to host this game in Pittsburgh,' " Morehouse recalled Friday after Bettman made it official that the Penguins would participate in the Winter Classic for the second time in four years when they play host to the Washington Capitals Jan. 1 at Heinz Field.

In that first Winter Classic, Morehouse watched as the visiting Penguins beat host Buffalo, 2-1, on a Sidney Crosby shootout goal at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a picturesque scene with snow falling.

"We saw right then and there, there was a great opportunity," Morehouse said. "We didn't expect to host it so soon, but I think that's a tribute to our ownership group, our fans and the city that the NHL thought it was important to give it to us."

Winter Classic 2011
  • Game: Penguins vs. Washington Capitals.
  • Where: Heinz Field.
  • When: Jan. 1, 2011.

This one will feature Crosby and the Penguins against one of their top rivals in a national NBC game. The Capitals are led by star winger Alex Ovechkin. Bettman said Washington will get a turn to stage the Winter Classic in the next two or three years, but no opponent has been set.

Although the matchup and site for the 2011 game -- Bettman pointed out it will be at 1 p.m. on 1/1/11 -- previously were revealed, the Penguins declined comment until Bettman made it official.

"That's a privilege to be asked to play," general manager Ray Shero said. "And it's our second one. It's a great experience, one of the greatest experiences I've had.

"I went to Boston [for the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park] with my family as a fan. We had a great time. My kids are working on their third Winter Classic."

Morehouse called Heinz Field, home of the Steelers, "perfect for the outdoor [hockey] game. It's basically shaped like an ice rink. You put the ice in the middle, with center ice at the 50 [-yard line], and the ice comes out to the 20s. So it's great for viewing hockey."

He said PNC Park, home of the Pirates, was under consideration but Heinz Field prevailed because it seats 65,000.

The NHL is handling tickets. Details have not been announced, although Morehouse said Penguins season-ticket holders and suites customers will have an opportunity to buy seats for the Winter Classic. Fans can sign up to receive updates about the game at www.nhl.com.

Other details are still being assembled. It is expected that there will be a news conference in July at Heinz Field offering more information.

"We're in the very preliminary stages of planning this thing, but we're going to try to make it more than just a game," Morehouse said.

The Penguins will work with various city and regional entities and the Steelers to make it a two- or three-day holiday weekend event. Morehouse said there could be concerts, including one on New Year's Eve at the team's new Consol Energy Center; other outdoor games involving high school and college teams; appearances by former Penguins and Steelers; and a tie-in with the city's First Night festivities.

Morehouse said landing a Winter Classic does not affect the Penguins' plans to pursue an All-Star Game and an NHL draft for Consol Energy Center in the coming seasons.

The Penguins debuted a throw-back blue uniform at the 2008 Winter Classic, and kept that as a third jersey for select games through the recently completed season, when that uniform was retired.

Morehouse said there have been "preliminary discussions on design for [2011] Winter Classic jerseys" and that those would not be worn before the New Year's Day game.

One thing all the planning can't account for is the weather, but Morehouse knows what he is hoping for.

"I'd love for it to snow a little bit," he said.

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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