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THN.com Blog: Watching the Winter Classic

Buffalo's Ryan Miller did his best Jose Theodore impression, sporting a toque of his own for the 2008 outdoor game.

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Buffalo's Ryan Miller did his best Jose Theodore impression, sporting a toque of his own for the 2008 outdoor game.

I had planned on being at the NHL “Winter Classic” outdoor game in Buffalo, but a nasty storm kept my white knuckles at home while I watched the game on the boob tube. Here’s a running diary of what I saw:

12:30 p.m. Hockey Night In Canada’s TV coverage begins with an absolutely tremendous mini-tribute to Buffalo and the Sabres franchise, including the “Talkin’ Proud” song that was ubiquitous throughout upstate New York and Southern Ontario in the 70s and 80s. Commander Tom and Irv Weinstein would be proud.

12:44 CBC host Ron MacLean speaks to Penguins enforcer Georges Laraque via microphone and earpiece during the warm-up; MacLean ruminates a little on the picturesque scene at Rich Stadium, then asks Laraque if the setting has tempted him to throw down in a fight with Sabres ruffian Andrew Peters.

Laraque notes the danger of fighting in especially unpredictable weather conditions, and you can practically feel the sagging-shoulder letdown on MacLean’s end. Better luck next Winter Classic, Ron.

1:00 Realize that Ty Conklin has the privilege of starting in net for the Penguins. Remember Conklin had the same privilege with Edmonton during the NHL’s last outdoor game in 2003. Resolve to henceforth refer to the height of good fortune as “Ty Conklin-lucky”.

1:25 Game begins.

1:25:21 Colby Armstrong scores less than 30 seconds into the first period to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh, dashing the hopes of thousands of Canadian fans who prefer their hockey 99 and 44/100 percent goal-less.

1:36 An energy drink commercial features a “Yo Mama” joke contest between Sabres star goalie Ryan Miller and…um, Kings backup Jean-Sebastien Aubin? Seriously, NHL marketing people? What, was Steve Shields unavailable?

Resolve to henceforth stop referring to the height of good fortune as “Ty Conklin-lucky”, and start referring to it as “J-S Aubin-lucky”.

1:59 Some fantastic end-to-end action in the last few minutes. Know what I chalk that up to? Turnovers that come as a result of the bumpy, slushy ice that seemingly has to be patched somewhere at every stoppage in play.

And that’s absolutely fine by me; the more aspects of this game that can’t be micro-managed by the NHL coaching fraternity, the better.

2:12 Hey, a Slap Shot feature on NBC’s first intermission! (Yup, I’m still a sucker for that movie.)

2:15 Hey, this isn’t a Slap Shot feature – it’s a platform for host Bob Costas to discuss how much smarter he is than Bill Goldthorpe, the real-life inspiration for uber-goon Ogie Oglethorpe. Quit it with the false advertising, NBC.

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2:16 Flip the channel back to CBC just in time to see Don Cherry has stolen his outfit from Jennifer Lopez’s husband.

2:45 Legendary NBC play-by-play man Doc Emrick points out that Miller hasn’t faced a single Penguins shot in 16 minutes.

2:59
The second period ends with the teams tied at a goal apiece. Pittsburgh was credited with two shots on net (giving them a two-period total of 13), but nobody dared argue Crosby’s team had a genuine scoring chance in the frame.

Nope, nothing wrong with this league at all. This I know, because the NHL Board of Governors recently told me so.

3:33 A horn sounds at the halfway point of the third period, the play stops and the teams switch sides for an unusual third time in regulation. The fundamentalists probably are rolling on their living room floors in agony over this change, but I like it, if only for the egalitarianism involved.

4:00 Crosby attempts to split two Sabres d-men, but gets pulled down by Henrik Tallinder’s stick. Not only is no penalty called – a common theme in the work of Marc Joannette and Don VanMassenhoven on the day – but NBC analyst Ed Olczyk blamed Crosby, saying the Pens captain leaned into Tallinder and made it look worse than it was.

Uh, Ed? Crosby was trying to go around Tallinder. Unless you think Crosby should be limbo- ing underneath Tallinder’s stick, one of the most important things he should be doing is leaning forward. Kinda helps with the whole “going around him” thing.

4:10 Regulation time ends with no victor. Rumors abound that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is frantically working the phones to ensure no pre-game horserace shows break out unexpectedly.

4:23 The teams switch ends halfway through a 4-on-4 overtime that – considering some of the excitement droughts earlier in the game – is making a good case for 4-on-4 play all the time. In spite of my dedication to a team-based solution to games, I can’t be the only one secretly hoping for a shootout here, can I?

4:27 We’re over the three-hour mark, but we made it to the shootout. Hey, you take the good with the bad.

4:30 “This is just like Showdown!” exclaims NBC’s Olczyk, immediately losing more people than I did when I made an “Alias Smith and Jones” joke in one of my columns this fall.

4:34 Crosby goes five-hole on Miller to win the shootout and the game for Pittsburgh. And you thought the NBA draft was fixed. The Man sticks it to Sabres fans once again!

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