Orchard Park – It wasn’t the Buffalo Sabres but the home team finally delivered a win at an outdoor hockey game played at New Era Field in Orchard Park. Trailing 3-1 in the third period, Team USA’s Casey Middlestadt helped the Americans roar back with assists on the late goals that forced overtime with Canada Friday.
Team USA head coach Bob Motzko admitted he was skeptical about how a game played outdoors against Canada would work. Especially in a place like Buffalo, NY where the weather in late December is known to be a little rough.
“I love it now,” Motzko said after the game.
An announced crowd of 44,962 fans showed up despite the frigid temperatures and falling snow. The playing conditions weren’t ideal, but that mattered little. There were a number of shirtless fans spread throughout the stadium each vying for a spot on the jumbotron. No strea00kers and security was thankful I’m sure.
The fans played a large role in this game. Prior to puck drop, about a dozen or so fans were called into action to rescue the Team USA bus that somehow became stuck in the snow.
“It was crazy, we were just kind of talking and thinking about the game as it was happening,” said Middlestadt of the situation. “Luckily they were there and we made it on time.”
Back in 2008 when the NHL held its first “Winter Classic” in Orchard Park between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins, conditions were much the same. Lots of snow, freezing temps and more stoppages in play than I care to admit. For the most part, everything, right down to the shootout was identical to that first game. Only this time, the hometown favorites won.
Doug Allen started the day off singing both national anthems. There wasn’t a ceremonial puck drop or any Hall of Fame players introduced or singled out. It was a great atmosphere, the crowd was really into it. You didn’t see security guards making the mad dash from one section to another like you might see at a Bills game. At the time of this writing there were no reports of drunken frat boys jumping through burning tables either. Winning.
Will Lockwood left the game in the second period after crashing into the boards. Motzko said he would be reevaluated Saturday.
Team USA is scheduled to practice at HarborCenter tomorrow at 130pm. They next face Finland Sunday at 4pm at the Key Bank Center.
Canada won’t have much time to think about this result, they hit the ice against Denmark Saturday at 8pm, a game also at Key Bank Center. If Canada beats Denmark (and they should) they will claim the top spot in Group A. Had USA beaten Canada in regulation, they would have earned the No. 1 seed.