Warm weather postpones start of Alumni Classic
PHILADELPHIA—Overlooking left field, snowflakes never stopped falling high above this refashioned ballpark.
Unfortunately for the NHL, these were just digital white flakes forming around the Winter Classic logo on the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard.
For those keeping score at home, that's no runs, no hits, no snow.
League officials had hoped for "Buffalo snow," the description used for when the flakes highlighted the wintery scene at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the inaugural Classic in 2008. They'll have to settle for temperatures in the 40s, partly cloudy skies, and wind for the NHL's showcase event Monday between Eastern Conference rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.
Warm weather hit Friday in Philadelphia and was expected to last until Sunday night.
The NHL's old-timers will get a late start on the first major event of the Winter Classic weekend.
The alumni game between former members of the Flyers and Rangers has been pushed back two hours to a 3 p.m. start on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. The game, which includes stars including Eric Lindros and Mark Messier, was rescheduled because of a forecast that calls for temperatures in the 50s and sunny skies. The unseasonably warm weather caused soft ice Friday and forced a media skate to be pushed to late afternoon.
The league will use Saturday's game as bit of a test run for Monday's Winter Classic.
"As long as it doesn't rain," said Flyers forward Danny Briere, who toured the park Friday.
Rain is always a worry because it could increase the chance for injuries.
Conditions were near perfect for the first three Winter Classics in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston, with seasonal temperatures and, in Buffalo, plenty of snow. Last year's game at Pittsburgh was switched from an afternoon start to 8 p.m. to avoid predicted rain. The rain drops and slick ice still hit.
Forecasters are predicting moderate temperatures for Monday, which should allow the outdoor game to start on time.
"The cold front should come through by Sunday night," Weather Channel lead meteorologist Tom Moore said. "The temps will start dropping into the 30s and it won't go up too much after that. There are really no storms coming this week anywhere in the United States."
Construction crews used mallets to pound in fake snow, the same stuff used on Hollywood sets, into the outfield grass behind the rink that stretches from first base to third base.
The Winter Classic is expected to start on time close to 1:30 p.m.
"At least there's nobody saying there's some big tropical heat wave coming in," NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said. "We need hockey weather."
Sun or sleet, the idea of the Winter Classic alumni game was all that was needed to thaw the relationship between Lindros and the Flyers.
Lindros and the Flyers had been estranged since their bitter parting more than a decade ago. Lindros won a Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, made six All-Star teams, and led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals in 1997. His career was shortened by a series of concussions and a falling out with former general manager Bobby Clarke led to his trade to the Rangers in 2001.
Lindros was all smiles Friday when he caught up with old friends and attracted the kind of media crush that proved he was worthy of his spot as the star of the alumni game.
"Back in the orange and black," Lindros said. "It's been a while since I've pulled on a Flyers jersey. It'll mean a great deal."
Lindros and the rest of the former Flyers, that also included Clarke, took part later in the day in a practice at the Flyers' facility in New Jersey.
The open-air park won't bother Lindros. He's been playing for years at outdoor public rinks around Toronto.
"It's chilly, but it's really good ice," he said. "You put in a little bit of effort backchecking against the wind. These days, we don't backcheck too much, anyway."
More than 43,000 fans are expected at the alumni game. It's the kickoff to a series of events that include high school and college games, a minor league game, and a public skate.
Work started on Citizens Bank Park shortly before Thanksgiving and serious construction on the rink started on Dec. 19.
They'll continue right up into the game -- including the placement of 43,000 seat cushions on Sunday.
"We've held back some things, because with the alumni game, we don't want to expose everything at once," said NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli. "The finishing touches won't go on until the end."