Prior to hosting the Mets game against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night, Citi Field was introduced to an entirely different sport: hockey.
The NHL held its 2018 Winter Classic press conference at the Queens ballpark, which will be hosting the outdoor game on New Year’s Day between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.
It will be the 10th edition of this event, which started in 2008 in Buffalo when the Sabres took on the Penguins.
“No one could have imagined that this great event would become a classic,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
This will be the first time that New York is hosting a Winter Classic, though Yankee Stadium did host a pair of outdoor games during the 2014 season as a part of the league’s Stadium Series.
“It’s a great experience for the players,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who played in those outdoor games three years ago, said. “You know the whole league is watching…it’s a great thing to look forward to and circle the date.”
Taking a quick once-over of Citi Field, he liked what he saw.
“It seems like there won’t be a bad sightline in here,” he said. “It’s very steep.”
So did his teammate, Rick Nash.
“I think it’s going to be unbelievable,” he said. “It’s such a cool event and I think it’s going to be quite special.”
Those representing the Sabres, who will be the home team at Citi Field despite the Rangers being a stone’s throw away, were just as excited as being in the ballpark.
“It’s incredible to see this come together,” Buffalo center Ryan O’Reilly said. “You see the outline of a rink in the stadium and to see how many people are going to be here is awesome We’re fortunate to play in beautiful arenas, but to play in front of maybe three times that number will be amazing.”
Probably the most recognizable face of Sabres hockey, Jack Eichel, was just 11 years old when the first Winter Classic was played.
“Just being at home and watching the Winter Classic with my family and just experiencing that with my dad, and now having a chance to play in one, it’s going to be pretty special and I know it’s something I’ll never forget,” Eichel said.
“The experience and saying you’ve played in a Winter Classic is a privilege,” he added. “I’m just looking forward to it.”