The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are scheduled to face off shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday, outdoors under the lights at Heinz Field in the 2017 iteration of the NHL Stadium Series. Tickets can still be had for less than $90 and would be worth every penny if you’re a fan of hockey, tailgating or being a potential witness to a felony.
This is Penguins-Flyers were talking about.
But before the tailgating or game itself even gets started, there was plenty of preparation that needed to take place this week, and not just for the teams and stadium crew. For those with tickets already, or those thinking of grabbing a seat last minute, here are some helpful tips for welcoming our cheesesteak wielding neighbors from the other side of the state.
Extreme Makeover: Heinz Field Edition
The last time Heinz Field was transformed into a hockey barn the results weren’t so great. Persistent rain and humidity turned the ice to slush, subsequently forcing the quality of play down somewhere between the worst NHL game you’ve ever seen and Adult Recreational League.
The good news is things can only get better this time around, as the NHL has learned a lot about making these outdoor games work in the five years since Heinz Field was last home to some hockey.
The bad news is their opponent is the Flyers, so it still could more closely resemble a wrestling match held in a swimming pool.
But for now, crews have rink constructed and the ice is in place. It will be kept cold via a complex, immersed system of tubes circulating coolant between the ice surface and the grass at Heinz Field. Tarps will assist this process, as the weather in Pittsburgh is predicted to remain unseasonably warm until Saturday.
If a Flyers fans poses a question about how this procedure works, just tell them “underground air conditioning.”
It’s a difficult exercise, but one that the NHL and their ice crew have plenty of experience executing. Saturday marks the 20th outdoor contest since the Penguins played the Sabres in the 2008 Winter Classic. Although temperatures should drop into the 30s Saturday night, the real enemy remains the same, as rain is once again predicted in the forecast, meaning…
Conditions probably won’t be great
We know from witnessing other outdoor games that, even if the crew does its job and the weather cooperates completely, it’s still a very different game than the other 81 regular-season games the players are most accustomed to indoors. Rain would complicate things, but hopefully the conditions won’t be as bad as the AHL Outdoor Classic held last month.
Scoring early will be key for the Penguins, so fans should make sure to get to their seats on time and not skip out to the beer lines during all the pregame ceremonial programming that undoubtedly happens whenever a hockey game is played outside and thousands of people just want to get on with the game.
Also, scoring first would be particularly important for the Penguins, who have won 64-straight games when leading after two periods. The plan of scoring early and relying on defense and a raucous crowd to close out the game is a proven formula at Heinz Field.
(Insert obligatory Myron Cope/Terrible Towel reference here.)
What to wear: Black and Gold layers
For the quality of hockey, the weather could be bad, but for the fans, the weather will hopefully be okay. As long as there isn’t a complete downpour, sporting a jersey by itself should be enough when parking lots open at 4 p.m. for those planning to tailgate — basically everyone going to the game, plus thousands of other fans who will be watching from a North Shore establishment.
Not so much when the puck is dropped four hours later. The best options would be A.) Bring your coat, or B.) tailgate successfully enough that your body doesn’t recognize the change in temperature. (Definitely chose option A).
Note: While a Steelers jersey is acceptable in the spirit of the game being played at Heinz Field, wearing an Eagles jersey would be frowned upon at any point this weekend. That said, Penguins should prepare themselves to see some green jerseys, and plenty of orange and black Flyers jerseys, as there will be a good number of people making the trip across the Commonwealth.
60,000+ Penguins and Flyers fans in one stadium
This sounds like it could potentially result in something like a scene from Battle Dome. As fierce as the rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers is on the ice, it’s almost as intense between the two fanbases. Whether it be a Penguins fan yelling “Flyers suck” during a moment of silence to honor Ed Snider, or fans of the Flyers starting a GoFundMe campaign to buy the Penguins, there’s no love lost when these paths cross.
This is actually a great opportunity for Pens fans to anticipate trouble before it happens and prepare a game plan for handling the inevitable run-in with supporters of the opposition.
Philly isn’t good at sports, and the fans will be angry.
First, we have to understand Flyers fans haven’t had anything to celebrate in 42 years. These are the same people who threw tribute bracelets onto the ice during a game. They threw batteries at Santa. (Editor’s note: It was snowballs. The batteries were thrown at a baseball player who didn’t want to play in Philly.) They’re angry about their sports in Philly. In the midst of another lost season, this game is basically their Super Bowl — another thing Philadelphia has never won — which naturally means emotions will be high.
Pittsburgh is better at winning. Let’s embrace Philly’s pain. Let’s help them heal.
You know what? We should accept that. As good sports fans of teams that win regularly, we should try to facilitate their pain and welcome Flyers fans to our home, show them our trophies, and really make them feel welcome while they are here in Pittsburgh. Displaced Flyers fans who now live in Pittsburgh should receive special consideration since they had to bear witness to Pittsburgh sports teams winning championships firsthand.
Remain humble, even with all our success they haven’t had.
Truthfully, both sides should remain humble. The Penguins and Flyers have played a combined four outdoor games since the 2008 Winter Classic and lost all four. The Flyers lost one-goal games to the Bruins and Rangers in 2010 and 2012, respectively, while the Penguins lost 3-1 to the Capitals at Heinz Field in 2011 and then were leveled by the Blackhawks 5-1 at Soldier Field in Chicago in 2014. It’s a good time for Pennsylvanians to come together and celebrate the fact that one of their NHL teams is going win an outdoor game.
Watching hockey outside does not give you the license to fight everyone.
If we learned anything from the past, outdoor games between heated rivals aren’t exactly peaceful. Last year, when the Bruins and Canadiens played in Foxborough, a fan went to the game with an arsenal of weapons — including a meat cleaver — and was arrested in the parking lot before getting a chance to go full “Sudden Death.” Two years ago, during the Red Wings-Leafs game in Ann Arbor, there were two arrests and 11 ejections.
It’s guaranteed to be a wild event this weekend, plus there’s a hockey game! Just do everyone a favor — Penguins and Flyers fans alike — and leave the weapons (Editor’s Note: Batteries.) and meat cleavers at home.
Unless you’re chopping up some meat to throw on the grill. In that case, bring a burger over to Gold 1.
Rich Miller is a freelance writer and the managing editor at The Pensblog.