PITTSBURGH – After falling countless times to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990’s, Peter Bondra finally scored a late goal for the Washington Capitals to tie the Winter Classic Alumni game at 5-5. Most of the 10,000 in attendance at Heinz Field wanted overtime. A shootout featuring Mario Lemieux would’ve been even better. But the NHL failed to capitalize on a made-for-TV moment and the game ended as a tie.
After the game, Penguins and Capitals alumni were sporting huge smiles and talked about how fun it was to be back on the ice. Weather concerns have been the biggest story of the week, but Jay Caufield said the ice was surprisingly in really good shape:
TheHockeyWriters.com also caught up with Larry Murphy, Ron Francis, and Gary Roberts to get their thoughts on the Alumni game, tomorrow’s Winter Classic, and the state of the NHL today.
Larry Murphy (Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-95)
Excerpt: On the alumni game…
It was a great experience and I’m thankful that Mario pushed to have this game. For the players it was a huge success. Great opportunity to see players you haven’t seen in a while, get together, and go out there and play. It was competitive in it’s own right. Of course, nobody’s running anybody over but still guys went out there, tried to do their best, and I thought it was an exciting event.
Excerpt: On the buzz around the Penguins and Pittsburgh becoming a two-sport town…
Yeah, they’ve had great success of late and they’ve got the brand new building and the excitement level is definitely rising. You can feel it too, because it’s a Winter Classic weekend it feels like hockey has taken over. It was great that the Steelers allowed them to use this venue. It seems like a perfect venue for this sort of event, but I played here. I remember those [Stanley Cup winning] years here there was a tremendous amount of excitement. So to me it’s no surprise.
Ron Francis (Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-98)
Excerpt: On being back on the ice after a few seasons behind the bench with the Carolina Hurricanes…
I think it needs to stay like that. It makes you understand why you’re behind the bench and not still playing. It’s funny, we got that powerplay [late in the game] and I work with our powerplay a lot and I always tell our guys to move. I knew in my mind I couldn’t stand still because they’d be giving it to me if I got back and I was standing still the whole powerplay [laughs].
Excerpt: On Mario Lemieux and what made him special…
I finally got the one shift with him on the powerplay. It was always incredible [playing with him]. For as good as he was in the games, what was a special treat for me is I got to work with him every day in practice. He did some stuff in practice that guys don’t even think about trying to do and I think that’s when you get a sense of just how talented he was and how good he was. Then you get a chance to get out there on the ice with him in games and win championships, those were special special times.
Gary Roberts (Pittsburgh Penguins 2006-08)
Excerpt: On NHL players keeping the entire Winter Classic experience in perspective…
It doesn’t matter what level you play at, you go out there and you saw the Alumni Game just now, everybody wants to win. It’s going to be no different tomorrow. Obviously these guys are going to enjoy it, it’s going to be wonderful experience for everybody, but when the puck drops it’s just like any other game. You’re trying to win and get the two points, but also enjoy yourself. It’s a fine line.
Excerpt: On fitness and his role as Player Development Consultant with the Dallas Stars:
I think with every player, and the younger players now, there’s just so much information out there for them. I’m trying give them the information I gathered over many years of playing and coming back from some injuries and really trying to get them better prepared to play in the National Hockey League. I wish I knew what I know now. I wish I knew that when I was 20 years old, not that I would change much. I’m very thankful for the career I had, but I definitely see the progress in young players that take care of themselves, eat properly, train properly. There’s no comparison to their bodies and the speed at which they play to what we did. The game has changed and the speed of the game is greater. If you’re not doing that stuff – if you’re not training and taking care of yourself, then your chances at longevity are very slim.