The NHL is coming to Yankee Stadium in January, and players from each of the three local teams slated to play the two games during Super Bowl week -- part of the league's "Stadium Series" next season -- got a chance to see a rough mock-up of the rink dimensions at the ballpark in the Bronx Thursday.
"You just really get to experience all the time you've taken to get to the National Hockey League, everything it took. A lot of that for me was playing outside," the Islanders' John Tavares said after a news conference at Yankee Stadium to formally announce the games.
The Rangers will face the Devils on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 12:30 p.m. and will take on the Islanders on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m.. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged that since the league first introduced its Winter Classic on New Year's Day in 2008 with a game in Buffalo between the Sabres and Penguins, Yankee Stadium has been in both the league's and the Yankees' thoughts.
"It's no secret that people have urged us to play at Yankee Stadium since the moment it became clear that our outdoor games were such special, unique and fun events," Bettman said.
The Winter Classic will be held Jan. 1 at "The Big House" in Ann Arbor, Mich., between the Red Wings and Leafs. Yankee Stadium will host the Pinstripe Bowl just after New Year's. The only way to make these Stadium Series games work was to position them before Super Bowl XLVIII Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium and move them away from the Jan. 1 date.
"This is a special year for the league," NHL COO John Collins said. "With the labor negotiations last year and the Olympics this year, we wanted this year to be special. When you look at what happens in the local markets with the outdoor games and with a lot of people in the area for the Super Bowl here, these games in particular will be something to see."
The first game of the Stadium Series will be Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium between the Kings and Ducks. The Penguins and Blackhawks will play at Soldier Field March 1.
Tavares is excited about taking part in his first pro outdoor game -- on the heels of his first playoff appearance this past spring. But keeping the spectacle of an outdoor game away from the rigors of a regular season will be a challenge.
"It's a regular-season game, it's an important game," Tavares said. "It's playing against our rivals, that's exciting."