Even if you discount the spectre of poor weather, today's Winter Classic presents logistical challenges for all involved. From fans attending the game, to players participating and to media covering it. Everything is different.
Perhaps no one has a larger task at hand than the equipment staffs for each team.
Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze and his staff of Paul DeFazio and Danny Kroll have had the task of preparing for a game completely different from the other 81 on their schedule which take place in climate controlled facilities.
This game involves the extra element of unstable weather.
Heinze (above, right, with DeFazio) recently spoke about the challenges of this game and his experience from the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo and taking over the Steelers' locker room at Heinz Field
How is this game different from the 2008 Winter Classic?
I think it’s pretty easy this time around. The biggest challenge and the biggest difference for us as an equipment staff is the fact that we’re the home team. When we went through this the first time in Buffalo, we were the visitors. Therefore, the Buffalo Sabres equipment staff were in charge of setting everything up for that game. You can’t forget the fact that this is a two-point game. At the end of the day, it’s worth two points. When the Washington Capitals come to Pittsburgh for this game, they’re going to expect to be treated just like they were playing at the Consol Energy Center. As equipment managers, it’s our job to make sure we provide everything that we would provide here (Consol Energy Center) over there. We’re lucky that Heinz Field is in close proximity to (Consol Energy Center). And we’re lucky in that we went through it one time already. So our plan of attack is that we’re going to take everything from this building that we provide for the visitors and set it up in the visiting NFL locker room. And it just going to feel like playing at Consol, it’s just a different building.
How is is different from a regular game?
We try to approach it as it’s just another hockey game. I think we have to keep it in perspective and stay grounded. We still have to do what we do on a day to day basis if we were at Consol or a regular road game. And keep everything the same so we’re not changing routines so that our routines match the players’ routines.
Do you still allow yourself to get excited over working in a second Winter Classic?
Yeah, we’re really luck and I’m really lucky. As a staff, we’re excited. I’m personally excited about the practice day because we’ll take a team picture on the ice. We already have a spot in the equipment room to put up the second team picture next to the first one. And that’s pretty neat. A lot of people don’t have this opportunity to be in a second Winter Classic let alone a first. And we don’t take it for granted. But it is a lot of work. We’re doing special laundry bags. Name tags. All kinds of stuff to make Heinz Field our locker room.
On using the Steelers' facilities.
We’re going to use the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room which is pretty exciting. It huge a locker room. We’re going to break up their locker room into three pieces. We’re going to have a workout/stretching/multi-purpose space. Then we’re going to have a change room area. Then we’re going to have the dressing area for the players. The coaches will use the coaches office over there and the trainers will have the training room. It’s exciting to be in the Steelers’ locker room, especially growing up a Steelers fan. It’ll be neat to see our gear hanging up there. And walk out the same tunnel the Steelers walk out every Sunday.
On the weather.
We play close attention. The league gives us updates. They provide us with heat gear an all different type of garments for the elements. We’ll do the same thing we did in Buffalo. We’ll have everything set up in a room. And it will be like going shopping. Each player will walk in, there will be a table and there will be full mock turtle necks, special undergarments, hoodie masks for wind, special long pants, things like that. Every guy will coming and take what they and throw it in their laundry bag.
How the weather affects the players.
They really not thinking about that. I remember the first (Winter Classic), our guys complained the bench was too warm and we had to turn down the heat to make sure it was not as hot. I think all those things go out the window once they get on the ice to play.
On being ready for any contingency.
Sometimes I think we over-prepare. But that’s a good thing. Hopefully we don’t overlook anything. We have hand warmers and feet warmers and all kinds of stuff. We have everything you could possibly want to provide. In the first Winter Classic we found that with the snow coming down, it was fogging up the half shields. I remember (former Penguins defensemen) Darryl Sydor and Sergei Gonchar taking their half shields off. Knowing those little things were an advantage for us.
What will the coaches wear?
They will have letterman jackets as well for this game. They’re pretty cool. The apparel in this game is really neat. A lot of vintage looking (stuff).
Are you ready?
We’re pretty ready. I think we’re pretty prepared. If something sneaks up on us, shame on us because we’ve been working on this for a long time.
(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)