By Matt Popchock

In all probability you are taking time away from family, friends, parties, and/or preparation for other fun times on New Year’s Day to read this.  Don’t worry, I won’t take up too much of that time.  I just have one simple plea I’d like to share.

Let it snow.

Or rain.  Or sleet.  Or whatever.

2011 NHL Winter Classic LogoThe NHL has moved the start time of the Winter Classic to 8:00 P.M. Saturday due to presumably adverse weather conditions, and for this you will hear no sour grapes from me.  It’s a blessing in disguise that the league has pushed back the event.  It gives the hard-core Penguin fans–and, to a lesser extent, Caps fans–more time to rest up from a night of New Year’s Eve revelry, more time to park (always an adventure in this city when such a rare event takes place), and more time to spend with loved ones and spend downtown, enjoying the various activities the league is putting on and pumping more money into the local economy, before the puck drops.  Plus, lest we forget, it gives a number of those same people more time to partake in another of Pittsburgh’s great pastimes: tailgating.

There’s nothing wrong with a nighttime Classic.  The NHL and NBC have no pro football to compete with till Sunday, and even though the show must now go on opposite college football, competing with a bowl game that means nothing to the majority of viewers in Pittsburgh and/or Washington shouldn’t be an issue.  If anything, playing the game at a time of day when, presumably, more people are near TV’s should boost the numbers.

In addition, speaking from experience covering outdoor games staged by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, all of which have been held after sunset, the atmosphere is just as exciting, and the event itself it just as enjoyable.  The drop in temperature may be an inconvenience, but look at it this way–if folks start leaving Heinz Field early for any reason, let alone the cold, we’ll be able to tell with relative ease who the real fans are.

I’m all for making the fan experience a more pleasant one, and I think I speak for all Pens fans when I say I’m also all for the team embarking on the path of least resistance to victory Saturday night.  Having said that, the only thing that would make the night more perfect, two points for the home team not withstanding, would be if somehow, some way, the predicted rain hung around long enough for the more chilly evening air to turn it into snow.

Call me crazy, but I think, in the best of all possible worlds, it would play right into the Penguins’ hands if enough precipitation built up on the outdoor surface over the course of the day to impede the game but not delay it further.

As well as the Penguins have played recently, there’s going to be a lot of great skaters lining up on the other side of the circle tomorrow night.  The Capitals, given their athleticism and speed from top to bottom, want to turn any game against any opponent into a track meet.  They want to overwhelm the Penguins with their offensive depth.  Subpar ice conditions would hurt their ability to do so.

When the teams met in Landover last week, the Pens spent the better part of two periods on their heels and stole two points from the Caps by showing their superior defensive mettle, especially in the early stages of the game.  Based on what we’ve seen from both teams thus far, the Penguins would be better equipped to score garbage goals, if necessary, and win a low-scoring affair spurned on by adverse weather…not unlike the inaugural Winter Classic in Buffalo.

It’s wishful thinking, I know.  But in the meantime, let’s not rain on the parade, pun fully intended.  In the past 24 hours I’ve heard our hosts talk about what’s wrong with the NHL these days.  The Winter Classic is something that’s right with the NHL.  It celebrates the roots of hockey, it’s a nostalgic experience for many of those playing in it, and for Pittsburgh, a city that deserves to be the center of attention in the hockey universe for one weekend, it’s an honor to be chosen for it.  Let’s embrace it and be proud, and let’s hope Mother Nature is on our side.

Here’s to a rousing start to a happy new (sports) year, Pittsburgh.  I hope you enjoy it, no matter where you are or who you’re with.  So, without further ado…

“Oh the weather outside is frightful…but the [hockey] is so delightful…and since we’ve no place to go…”

You know the rest.

For more of the latest news and views on the Penguins, be sure to tune into The Penalty Box with Tom Grimm, Saturday mornings on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, and check out the new “Puck Talk with Popchock” video blog, coming in 2011!