Heinz Field great host for Winter Classic


A record national television audience for a regular-season NHL game watched, and Heinz Field didn't disappoint as a host site for the 2011 NHL's Winter Classic featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Rainy weather pushed the start time back to 8 p.m., but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm.

"The scene in Pittsburgh was simply spectacular – a real celebration of hockey – and the weather will no doubt become part of NHL Winter Classic lore," said NHL COO John Collins.

The game took on a Steelers flavor early on when Penguins players came out on the ice with Terrible Towels. In addition, Former Steelers running backs Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis joined Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux and U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Bradley T. Tinstman for the ceremonial puck drop.

"It was incredible," said Bettis, wearing a Steelers jacket and toting a Terrible Towel as well. "To be in that type of environment is something you never saw before in this town. To see it and be a part of it was special.

"Being in Heinz Field, I know what happens here. They are here for a hockey game, but they understand it's still a football stadium we are in."

Harris, who joked that sometimes the playing surface at Three Rivers Stadium was as slippery as the rink, was amazed by the transformation and thrilled to be a part of the game's pageantry.

"It was very cool. It was a great night," said Harris. "It was a great honor to be a part of the ceremonial puck drop. That was awesome. To see Heinz Field packed and the energy and electricity you felt in the stadium, these fans were ready. The transformation was incredible. How they did it and set it up, everything worked out great.

"It helped to showcase Pittsburgh. You couldn't ask for a better night."

Penguins players were understandably disappointed after the Winter Classic following a 3-1 defeat, but still enjoyed the atmosphere at Heinz Field and playing in front of the 68,111 in attendance.

"It was an amazing feeling," said Sidney Crosby. "Playing hockey in front of that many people, it's something that probably none of us ever dreamed of doing."

"It's pretty easy to see why you see (NFL players) so pumped up every week. Coming down the tunnel is a pretty amazing feeling."

Forward Max Talbot, who attends Steelers games when he can, also enjoyed the atmosphere.

"It was a great experience," said Talbot. "It was something special. It was a great atmosphere, a great building. Coming out in the runway, it was pretty special."

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't hide his disappointment with the loss, but managed a smile when talking about playing at Heinz Field in front of the huge crowd.

"It was awesome," said Fleury. "It's so big, so many people. It was a good time."

Hosting the Winter Classic at Heinz Field is something that had been in the planning for months before the game, and for Steelers President Art Rooney II seeing it all come together was something special.

"There is no doubt it's awesome," said Rooney. "It's hard to believe. You have to do a double-take when you look out there and see a hockey rink in the middle of the field. It turned out great. The fans loved it and the city looked great on television.

"It's as close as anything we have had to a Super Bowl around here. It has that feel to it. It's a special night."

Some from Washington might have wondered why the rock band Styx was performing between periods at the Winter Classic, but Pittsburgh fans, they got it.

The Styx hit "Renegade" is a fan-favorite at Steelers games, played when the defense is on the field and accompanied by a video filled with some of the season's hardest hits.

"It's still surreal to me to have a small part of this whole thing going on," said Styx Tommy Shaw. "It still blows my mind. A song that started off in my living room one night years ago has taken on this epic proportion.

"It's killer. I was watching the Carolina game texting my manager back and forth. They came back from the commercial and they were saying they just showed this really great video that got the crowd fired up. He got a text that said 'Yeah, it was Renegade.'"

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