June 22, 2018

Winter Classic: Commissioner Gary Bettman’s media availability

Posted in it’s entirety, for your amazement and enjoyment. [courtesy NHL Media Relations]

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Happy New Year.  We’re delighted that you were able to join us here today.  What a spectacular afternoon we had here at Nationals Park.

I want to first start by thanking the Nationals organization, especially Mark Lerner, for welcoming us into their home and letting us dress it up and turn it into a hockey venue for the day. I also want to thank the Blackhawks for participating and being so cooperative.  Obviously, the players and from Rocky Wirtz on down, the Caps’ Ted Leonsis, what can you say?

What you saw here today from 43,000 people was a level of enthusiasm for hockey, for the Capitals, that I’m not sure many people imagined could ever have been accomplished here in Washington.  And it’s a testament to Ted Leonsis and his passion for the game, his passion for the Capitals, and his passion for this community.

He insisted, he was persistent, he was relentless in pursuit of this game and it was because he wanted it for Washington DC. The atmosphere couldn’t have been greater.  The weather was spectacular.  I have to congratulate my own special events people for the way they dressed up this park.  I mean, the replica Capitol Building, the reflecting pool, actually somebody showed me a picture of somebody skating on the reflecting pool in 1918 to give you a sense of how far these things go back here.  But it made for a fun day.

A lot of people were probably out late last night, but that didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from being in spectator plaza and tailgating at nine o’clock in the morning. All in all it’s been a fun day.  We had a competitive, entertaining game, and so I just want to again thank everyone, but most importantly the players, for participating and enjoying the experience, and all the great fans who turned out.

Each of these games — I know they get compared one outdoor game to another: they’re all unique, they’re all different, they’re all special in their own way.  And that’s the way we like to try and do it. And I don’t know what people’s expectations were for our event here today, but the Winter Classic here in Washington couldn’t have been better from a fan experience and an entertainment standpoint. And on that note, I’m happy to take questions

Q.  Ted said that he thought that part of the reason they got the Winter Classic was just so that you wanted him to leave you alone.  Can you talk about his efforts over the years and what you were looking for?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:  The fact of the matter is, we wouldn’t have brought the Winter Classic here, despite Ted’s persistence, if we didn’t think it was right.  It’s Ted’s persistence, not just in pursuing this event, but in making the Caps such an important part of the sports scene in Washington. It’s Ted’s pursuit and persistence — in making the Capitals such an important part of the community – that brought us to the point that we believed that by bringing the Winter Classic to Washington we could have a great event and that’s what we had.

So, yes, it’s his persistence, but it wasn’t just in harassing me — and it’s not harassing, because Ted’s a great owner and his passion is phenomenal — but the point is, it’s everything he does about the way he conducts this organization, that enabled us to be more than comfortable that we could successfully bring the Winter Classic to Washington.

Q.  You said every game is unique.  What was memorable about this particular Winter Classic?  I know it’s only like a half hour after, but.

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN:  Well, we’ll take a deep breath.  Putting aside for a minute that we had a very competitive, entertaining game, just when you came in here and you saw the way we took a modern venue, and, because it was modern, we could dress it.  And the Capitol Building, the reflecting pool, the military presence, the entertainment between periods, these were all things that created a fun environment for our fans. Again, this is an event that takes the game back to its roots. So many people learn to skate and play hockey outdoors, as young kids, and it conjures up memories of that.

When you look at something that was focused on being in the U.S. nation’s capital and you look at the way Don Renzulli dressed up his events people dressed up the building, it gave it that special feeling. By the way, in addition to thanking Don, and special events people, I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Dan Craig, the world’s expert in making ice under any circumstances and conditions.  And Colie Campbell who runs hockey operations.

We had some decisions that we had to make before the game, including when to start the game, and it was a fully coordinated effort. And we had the cooperation of the Players’ Association in these endeavors, which is always a good thing as well.

Q.  Can you talk about before the game during warm ups about starting on time versus delaying it?

COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We decided that we would have the players come out and warm up and see how comfortable they were with the sun conditions.  The ice was fine; that was never an issue.

The report we got back from Corey Crawford, the goaltender who was in the sun for Chicago, that he was comfortable, and the two captains told us that they were comfortable and we decided to switch ends — just to make sure that nobody had any issues about fairness at the 10-minute mark.  It worked out perfectly well.  It was a non-issue.

For us, the primary issue, if there was to be an issue, was player safety.  Once we were comfortable that that wasn’t going to be an issue, everyone decided — I decided it was time to go and play on time.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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