Written by Mary Kate Wirfel
Every New Years Day the NHL hosts an outdoor game. The game is live broadcasted for all fans in both the United States and Canada to see. Various stadiums participate in this event. Mainly MLB and NFL stadiums used to play baseball and football. The first outdoor game was the Heritage Classic in 2003 in which Canadian NHL teams usually participate. Outdoor NHL games became a huge marketplace for viewings and merchandise. The outdoor games became so popular the NHL now has stadium series games that happen every year. The Winter Classic or the New Years Day Ice Bowl has Buffalo connections.
On January 1st, 2008 The Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins played the first ever Winter Classic game in what is now known as New Era Field. At the time the stadium was still called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Both Buffalo and Pittsburgh hockey fans packed the Stadium, 71,217 fans to be correct. More than any Buffalo Bills game. The weather was perfect for an outdoor hockey game. The snow was falling perfectly and players were out on the ice ready to begin the historic game. Fans were tailgating as if they were at a late December Buffalo Bills game.
Even the jerseys reflected on both the Penguins and Sabres history. The Penguins brought back the baby blue jerseys from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Sabres brought back the royal blue jerseys from the 1970s. For a brief moment in time, the older fans were young again and back in the Memorial Auditorium cheering on their favorite hockey team.
The game began and in the first period, the Penguins striker Colby Armstrong assisted by the youngest captain in the NHL at the time Sidney Crosby. The Penguins were leading 1-0. Then came the second period. The Buffalo Sabres finally got on the board, thanks to defenseman Brian Campbell with a goal assisted by Daniel Paille and Tim Connolly. The game stayed 1-1 throughout the third period and overtime. Then came the shootout. Ryan Miller was in net for the Sabres. Buffalo scored first. Ales Kotalik scored, making it hopeful for the Sabres to pull off the historic win. However, it wasn't enough. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang slipped one behind Miller, followed by the superstar Sidney Crosby who scored the game winner and the victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Although the Sabres lost the first Winter Classic Ice Bowl, a tradition was born that began right here in Buffalo. Technically Orchard Park, because that is where the Bill's Stadium is located.