Winter Classic Notebook: Teams leave ice without so much as a handshake
Penguins' Michael Rupp: "There's no secret that we don't like each other." Shown here, the Capitals' John Erskine lands a right cross on Rupp in their clash in the first period at Heinz Field last night.
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The Penguins and Washington Capitals either forgot or ignored what was developing into a tradition at the NHL Winter Classic.
The two teams did not shake hands at center ice at the end of the game. The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings shook hands at the end of the 2009 Winter Classic, and the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins did the same in '10.
"I actually wasn't even aware that usually happens," Penguins center Mike Rupp said.
The game Saturday was a physical one between the two rivals, featuring one fight between Rupp and Capitals defenseman John Erskine, 70 hits combined and a small fracas with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
"It's probably best that it didn't happen, especially the way we ended the game," Rupp said. "You know? Whatever. There's no secret that we don't like each other. I think that we're all professionals, we could probably go through and shake hands, but, the way the game was going at the end, you never know."
With his playing days over, former Penguin defenseman Paul Coffey coaches hockey for his sons, Blake, 12, and Christian, 7. His coaching job was easy Saturday morning.
Taking in the Penguins' morning skate at Consol Energy Center, Coffey turned to Blake, pointed to Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and said, "Watch him."
"He's got it all," said Coffey, in town to play in the alumni game and watch the Winter Classic. "He's a tough kid, which is good. Very, very mobile. He's got a great shot, and he's got a good head. Those are four pretty good things to have in today's game."
Letang was flattered to hear about Coffey's praise.
"Especially coming from a Hall of Famer like that," Letang said. "I grew up watching him play, and I've always been amazed by him -- the way he skated and how smart he was on the ice."
Coffey ranks second all time among NHL defensemen in goals, assists and points. Letang is having his best offensive season of his career. Through the Penguins' first 40 games this season, Letang has 33 points, tying his career best for a season.
After a couple years learning his position and the Penguins' system, Letang said he is now better able to assert himself offensively.
Camera crews from HBO have followed the Penguins and Capitals nonstop the past month to produce "24/7 Penguins and Capitals Road to the Winter Classic." But with the Winter Classic over, today will be the last time the crews shadow the teams.
So will the players miss the HBO crew?
"Maybe a little bit," Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said.
He said the whole process has been fun.
"They've done a good job with what they've had to do," Martin said. "It hasn't been any distraction at all for us, and I think it was good for hockey, just for people to see what we do, day in and day out.
"By now, we know [the crew members] by name, and they've had fun doing it, too. All in all, it was a good experience."
The fight between Rupp and Erskine ignited the 68,111 fans in attendance at Heinz Field midway through the first period.
"You hear everyone right away get loud quick," Rupp said. "It was fun. It was just kind of a spur of the moment thing. I finished a hit, he gave me a shove, and that's kind of hockey after that."
But Rupp said none of those big swings landed with much force.
"I don't think anyone connected really solid for either of us," he said. "I had a couple bloody knuckles, but I'm sure he does, too. We were probably hitting helmets or maybe nicking the face, but there was nothing substantial."
In the first period, Martin came out of the penalty box during a stoppage with 1 second left in his hooking penalty showing on the stadium clock. That's because there was a matter of a fraction of a second, and the official clock showed his penalty had expired.
NFL stadium clocks do not measure fractions of seconds, unlike NHL and NBA arenas.
The Penguins and Capitals switched ends at the end of the first and second periods and midway through the third period so that neither team played at a disadvantage due to the elements.
But, when the officials blew play dead at 10:00 in the third, the players on the ice were a bit confused.
"I think it was just a shock because they blew the play dead," Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said. "You don't usually get that in hockey unless there's a penalty or something that has happened on the ice. Everybody looked around and wasn't sure what was going, but they had told us earlier that we were going to change at the 10-minute mark."
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury hung around his goal for several seconds, and even had to dodge the ice crew that was trying to shovel water off the ice, before switching sides.
"It's just something you have to change when the game gets outdoors," Kunitz said.
With the Winter Classic moved back to a night game, the Penguins and Capitals held morning skates at Consol Energy Center. That got them somewhat back into a regular routine.
"It kind of makes it a normal day," Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said.
That made staying up to celebrate midnight on New Year's Eve less of an option.
"I was [lights] out at quarter after 11," Dupuis said. "A little bit of fireworks outside, but that was it."
Penguins center Sidney Crosby, likewise, did not greet the new year when it arrived.
"No, I was in bed," he said.
Washington's Alex Ovechkin smiled and giggled when asked about celebrating New Year's before finally coming up with this tale: "I just said, 'Happy New Year,' and then went right to bed, 12:02."
That was the question for a handful of players heading into the game. With the threat of rain hovering like the light patch of fog over the adjacent Ohio River, some players who usually wear visors considered ditching their face protection.
And, as the rain wore on, the visors wore off.
"I took my visor off in the third because I couldn't really see anything with the visor and the water coming in it," Dupuis said. "I think five or six guys took their visors off."
With a nod to the hosts, Penguins center Max Talbot twirled a Terrible Towel over his head when the Penguins and Capitals took the ice minutes before opening faceoff.
"That was fun," Talbot said.
Former Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann helped make the towel famous by waving it over his head during player introductions at an NFL playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium.
Talbot also had the towel tucked under his jersey as he warmed up an hour before the game. But Talbot did not find an abandoned towel in the bowels of Heinz Field.
"We bought them," he said.
Chris Conner, who has played in 23 games this season, was a healthy scratch Saturday to make room for Penguins center Jordan Staal. Defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Eric Godard were also scratches from the Penguins' lineup.
First Published January 2, 2011 2:33 am