PHILADELPHIA -- The hype leading up to this year's Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park has been unbelievable. The attention the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers have received has been Stanley Cup-like, as the entire hockey world, as well as the outside sporting world, prepares for what has become an annual main event to bring in the new year. Head coach John Tortorella has done his best to keep his team out from under the microscope despite the HBO cameras following their every move and the additional media now suddenly crowding their stalls in the locker room. So far, considering how the team has performed to this point, he's done an excellent job of that.
However, like the coach admitted in his meeting with the media on Sunday, the hoopla surrounding his team and today's outdoor game is like no other his boys have ever faced before. He believes his team will not be distracted, but there must be some concern that the atmosphere may take over and veer the team in the wrong direction.
That being said, the Rangers caught a slight break on Sunday when a sudden goaltending controversy emerged on the Flyers end of things. As you should know by now, normal starter Ilya Bryzgalov went against team policy by announcing to the media that he would not be getting the start in today's Winter Classic, and then followed that up with a string of outlandish comments expressing his "feelings" on the decision. In a way, Bryzgalov made the entire scenario into a joke of sorts, especially when he later tweeted a picture of his now infamous thermos. This side-story quickly became the talk of the hockey world and turned the attention to the Flyers locker room, alleviating the Rangers of all the extra eyes at least for the time being.
The Rangers, meanwhile, took the ice yesterday afternoon for a very business-like practice in which those on hand reported coach Tortorella put the players through as in-depth of a practice as he normally would if the team were preparing for a normal game at their practice facility. The players went about their business, Tortorella was short and sweet in his post-practice meeting with the media, simply stating that his team's lineup would remain unchanged for today, and they then packed it up and left the stadium to gather for Sunday evening's team meal.
Peter Laviolette's club, on the other hand, held a much less serious practice in which the players were sort of soaking in the experience (even though many of them have went through it before), and then Laviolette was faced with question upon question about the goaltending controversy that had been created behind closed doors in the morning. Compared to the Rangers' day, the Flyers' was not routine, normal or as straightforward as they maybe had hoped it would be.
For this reason, the Rangers have sort of flew under the radar here in Philadelphia, while the Flyers are entering this afternoon's contest with a whirlwind of negative attention already surrounding them. The Blueshirts will obviously welcome any advantage that is presented to them with open arms, and in my mind, what went on with the Flyers yesterday most definitely favors the Rangers and their mindset going into the big game.
* Yesterday during the Rangers practice, back-up goaltender Marty Biron wore a small camera atop his mask while on the ice. NHL.com put together a quick collection of clips from Marty's perspective during practice:
* Hit the streets of Philadelphia last night (quickly learned why it is so often considered "Filthy" Philly), and apparently picked the right place for dinner. Upon the many members of the hockey world who showed up at the downtown steakhouse for a bite were Ranger legend Adam Graves, Ed Olczyk, Ruslan Fedotenko, and there at the table beside me was today's starting goalie for the Flyers, Sergei Bobrovsky. "Bob" showed up by himself, had a very quiet dinner by himself and, I'm not going to lie, looked to be a little nervous. At one point he made a phone call in which he had a concerned tone of voice. I'd tell you what he was saying, but unfortunately I cannot decode Russian.
Just a tidbit I thought was worth sharing. Check my Twitter for pictures and more.