* 360º wide-angle view from our seats: section 222, row 10, seats 27 and 28
Tues., Jan. 1, 2008
(This isn’t a game recap since it was nationally broadcast in its entirety, but rather my personal experiences of the day.)
My younger brother and I enthusiastically hit the road in our rental car at 9:30 a.m. for our destination — the Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. Our adventure started out with a bang (literally) … we were coasting along on Abbot Road when a sheriff vehicle the size of a Suburban broke free from the traffic and sped past us down the median. The officer hadn’t gotten far before tearing off the front of a car that had been patiently waiting to turn. There were tons of witnesses since it happened in front of a bar parking lot full of tailgaters. We continued on our journey, driving past several lots advertising parking for $15 and up. At one point there was a little boy around 4 years old standing on a corner with his dad holding a sign decorated in Sabres graphics reading “Honk if you believe.” It was so cute. I beeped the horn a few times and the little boy revealed a big smiled. We soon found a good lot on the opposite side of the road that appeared would be easy to exit from after the game. It cost $25 but was worth every penny. There was a sea of tailgaters — the most I had ever seen in my life at any sporting event. Everyone was dressed in a mix of hockey gear and ski gear. The majority of people were wearing Sabres apparel from different eras. The beer and grilled items flowed freely. It was only 10:15 a.m. when we pulled into our parking space. The game wasn’t scheduled to begin until 1 p.m., so we hung out in the car for a while to stay warm knowing we had a long time ahead of us in the cold. At approximately 11:45 a.m. we bundled up in our remaining layers and broke open our hand and foot warmers. We joined a massive group of game attendees walking over to the stadium. When we reached the entrance of the stadium we saw giant NHL blow up hockey players and Sabres and Penguins team jerseys; a cool ice sculpture; a stage with various acts singing cover tunes; a virtual hockey game section sponsored by Verizon and several merchandise stands. We made our way to our seats after a few confusing rounds around the stadium. We had a great view. As we looked out in front of us at the rink we couldn’t help but think that it appeared smaller than normal, although I’m sure it was regulation size. There was a separate mini rectangular rink at our end where pee wee players faced off during some of the game breaks. The stadium seats filled up quickly and everyone seemed to be in high spirits.
An announcer declared that the event we had all been waiting for was about to begin!!! Flames shot out on the left and right sides at our end of the stadium as members of each hockey team walked out from the locker rooms and entered the arena. Then, individuals representing various divisions of the military marched out and unfolded a huge Canadian flag at one end of the stadium and an American flag at the opposite end. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan movingly sang ‘God Bless America.’ Fireworks shot up all around the top edge of the stadium and helicopters flew overhead. Collectively all of that made for a really moving experience. Next, the puck hit the ice and it was game on! Impressively, it pretty much followed the timing of regular indoor games, except for the frequent need to remove snow/ice shavings and repair the rink surface. As expected, drunken people were scattered throughout the stadium. The crowd was very vocal about the game plays. I don’t think the people watching at home saw the same things that were displayed on our giant screen — a group of enthusiastic shirtless boys were featured cheering. As the tournament went on, more and more guys were displayed on the screen without their shirts on! Keep in mind the temperature was around 30 degrees that day and snowflakes fell consistently the entire time. I overheard a guy behind us say to his friend, “I don’t want to be on the screen that badly.” The crowd attendance remained solid until the very end. I think all of those who stuck it out deserved shirts stating “I survived the Winter Classic.” I was pleasantly surprised that the traffic both before and after the game moved efficiently, as did the lines to the bathroom (which from a woman’s standpoint is a huge deal). The Sabres gave it their all. I had a great time and would absolutely do it again if the Sabres were involved.
Ticket to Game $60
Official Program $10
Winter Classic Experience … Priceless