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It's a great day for hockey

VanekpetersThat's the famous quote from late Penguins coach Bob Johnson, who led the team to its first Stanley Cup in 1991 but succumbed to brain cancer five months later. And a placard with those words is the last thing Pittsburgh players see on the wall as they exit the dressing room in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Those words fit what we saw at the Ralph on Monday and here's hoping the weather holds out so we'll say it again Tuesday for the Winter Classic. There was nothing mundane about the teams' practices Monday. Sure, this is a pretty gimmicky affair but players on both sides loved their throwback jerseys and all you saw were smiles in both dressing rooms afterward.

"It's so cool to be out here to be in such a big stadium," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I can only imagine what it's going to be like tomorrow."

"I didn't know what to expect," said Thomas Vanek. "I saw the pictures of the stadium a few weeks ago and it looked cool. But being in the middle of it and looking up, it's a lot cooler than I saw in the pictures."

The Penguins took the ice 10 minutes early, about 2:50. They stayed out for 90 minutes when they were only scheduled for 60. Star Sidney Crosby was one of the last ones off the ice.

"It's a beautiful day. It's perfect weather," Crosby said. "It's not like it's too cold to stay out. So it's something I think we're all enjoying."

The Sabres were going through the normal practice routine -- complete with an itinerary taped to the glass -- but the setting was so unique that Ruff scrapped the plan.

"I looked at our practice sheet and I said, "We've got to get rid of the last couple drills and let them scrimmage,' " Ruff said. "Let them get back to playing a little pond hockey for 10 minutes, let them enjoy it and don't worry about the structure of the practice. If somebody gives the puck away, let's just let them play. It felt like the right thing to do."

---Mike Harrington

(Photo: A bundled Thomas Vanek, left, and Andrew Peters share a laugh at practice/Associated Press)


Winter Classic
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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl |

About Sabres Edge

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |