Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury don't need any fingers to count the number of times they've played a meaningful hockey game outdoors.
"Never," both said.
They and the rest of the Penguins will get a chance to do that Jan. 1 when they travel to Buffalo to play the Sabres in the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic on a rink set up on the field of Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the NFL's Buffalo Bills.
The NHL formally announced the game yesterday during a news conference at the stadium, where an outline was laid out on the turf where the rink and refrigeration unit will be built from scratch.
The game, scheduled for 1 p.m., will be televised by NBC. It will be the NHL's first outdoor regular-season game in the United States.
The NHL expects to break its single-game attendance record set Nov. 22, 2003, when Edmonton drew 57,167 for the Heritage Classic, an outdoor game against Montreal. Ralph Wilson Stadium holds more than 73,000.
"I just made the short drive from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, and I've seen all the Buffalo fans come to games in Pittsburgh, so I can foresee a caravan of Penguins fans coming up [Interstate] 79, across [Interstate] 90 to Buffalo on New Year's Day," said Penguins president David Morehouse.
"The fact that the league chose the Penguins is a very big compliment for our team. This will showcase the NHL, the Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres."
Although most organized games are played indoors, many in the NHL played with friends on outdoor rinks and frozen ponds and canals when they were younger.
"There is something very special about taking hockey out into the elements, back to its roots, back to the place where so many boys and girls first learned to love our game," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi remembers playing an outdoor organized game.
"I think I was probably 10 or 11," he said. "It just happened to be that team's home rink. It was pretty cold, but it was fun."
The temperature was just above 0 degrees Fahrenheit the day of the Heritage Classic in Edmonton. Buffalo temperatures average in the mid-20s in January.
"The league will do a great job on ice quality, I believe," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "Some of that depends on temperatures. If it rains, there's not much you can do about that.
"We're hoping that, in the worst case, it might be cold. That would be great."
Buffalo is prone to lake-effect winter storms that can dump several inches of snow on the area.
"It's going to be interesting if it's snowing like crazy," said Mark Recchi, 39, who figures he and fellow Penguins winger Gary Roberts, 41, will have to work hardest to combat the cold.
Frostbite is the least of Crosby's concerns.
"I worry about weather conditions not allowing for the game to be played, but I don't worry about the weather conditions as far as [how they might affect play]," he said. "I'll play in rain, snow, 90-degree heat. I don't care.
"I'll be excited to play in that one, no matter what it's like."
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. Dave Molinari of the Post-Gazette contributed to this report. First Published September 18, 2007 4:00 AM