Winter Classic: Penguins' Fleury, Talbot excited after missing 2008 game
From left to right, Penguins players, Brooks Orpik, Alex Goligoski, Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson watch owner Mario Lemieux at Heinz Field during Friday's Alumni game.
Share with others:
You might think that with months of lead time for today's 2011 Winter Classic, the Penguins who remain from the 2008 outdoor game in Buffalo would have been peppered with questions from inquiring teammates.
What's the game like? The lighting? The ice? What about gear specific to playing in the elements?
But no, there hasn't been a whole lot of that, even as the game at Heinz Field nears.
"I've only asked a little bit," said first-year Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek. "They just say that it's a lot of fun, bringing you back to when you're younger, playing hockey outside."
Mike Rupp, a second-year Penguins forward, figured he would get a feel for things at the team's practice Friday on the outdoor rink.
"I've asked a couple of guys about how the weather was," Rupp said. "I know it was snowing [in Buffalo] and I asked about how that made the conditions. I got some feedback on how important the ice was last time.
"Mostly, I guess I was just expecting when we go out there the day before to get a gauge on what we're going to need and what we're going to wear. I haven't really asked too much."
Two of the holdovers would have a distinctly different take from the other six from that New Year's Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a game the Penguins won, 2-1, in a shootout.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Max Talbot were there, but they weren't on the ice. They weren't even on the visitors' bench. They were beside the bench.
That was the year of the high ankle sprain for the Penguins, and. Fleury and Talbot were among four players hit. Forwards Sidney Crosby and Gary Roberts missed time because of that particular injury later in the season, but. Fleury and Talbot were out of action for the Winter Classic.
"It was disappointing we didn't get to play, and we're fortunate we have another chance," Talbot said.
The two made the most of the next best thing to playing.
For the warm-up, they taped their ankles tight, went on the ice and posed in a team picture.
"It was pretty cool," Mr. Fleury said. "I had a chance to skate around a little bit, just see what it was like to be on the ice."
Once the game started, though, the two were in street clothes -- quite a bit of street clothes.
"A lot of layers," Talbot said. "It was a cold day, but it worked out great."
Because the rink was free-standing on a football field with no fan noses pressed against the glass, there was room to stand outside the boards. Fleury and Talbot don't remember specifically asking if they could stand next to the Penguins' bench; they just settled in there.
There were a few distractions -- Fleury lobbed a couple of snowballs at the Buffalo mascot, Sabretooth, he sheepishly admitted.
Mostly, they followed the game as well as they could, but it was difficult to have normal focus. So they watched more as fans.
"When you're playing, and when you're sitting on the sides, it's not the same," Fleury said. "I didn't have to see the puck at all times."
When Crosby scored the deciding goal on the sixth attempt of the shootout, his teammates poured off of the bench and smothered him in a sea of arms, whooping.
But Fleury and Talbot were stuck on the outside looking in.
"We were all happy to get the two points, but we were beside the bench," Talbot said. "I still remember thinking, 'What a perfect finish.' "
One that, for Talbot and Fleury, would have left a better memory if they could have played.
"I was a little mad back then, but it worked out all right," Fleury said. "We got a win, and now I'm looking forward to this one."
So are his teammates, including the ones who haven't been in a Winter Classic, despite the fact that they have been too caught up in the day-to-day grind of the season to grill those who played in the 2008 version.
Most of those who dressed for the Penguins have moved on -- forwards Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Adam Hall, Georges Laraque, Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Petr Sykora and Jeff Taffe; defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Rob Scuderi, Darryl Sydor and Ryan Whitney; and goaltenders Ty Conklin and Dany Sabourin.
Besides Talbot and Fleury, the Penguins from that game still on the roster are Crosby, fellow forwards Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang.
"As it gets closer, guys will start talking about it more," said winger Chris Kunitz, who just last week started asking trainers about the type of undergear the players will need to wear.
"I'm really looking forward to it. Just being able to play in a game of that magnitude during the season, not too many people have done that. It has a whole different element to the game. The majestic part of playing outdoors is going to be a fun part."
First Published January 1, 2011 12:00 am