The Mets were playing at home Friday night, but at noon, two hockey nets were on the infield dirt behind first and third, and the rough dimensions of a rink were marked out by long banners.
For the first time, an NHL game will be played at Citi Field, and although it’s four months away, the Winter Classic featuring the Rangers and Buffalo Sabres on New Year’s Day is expected to fill the ballpark, which opened in 2009, and create another memorable moment in the city’s sports history.
“I hope this is a bucket-list type of thing for people,” said Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. “Watching the other (Winter Classics) of the last 10 years — we’re Michigan fans, so I watched the game in the Big House; I couldn’t get there that year (Jan. 1, 2014 between Detroit and Toronto) — and saw the excitement of it. So hopefully, a little bit of snow, no rain and we’ll have a great event.’’
That game drew more than 105,000 fans, more than twice as much than Citi Field — which will be the newest venue to stage a Winter Classic — can accommodate. “It’s always a question of logistics and timing and matchups, but this was the right time to come here,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “I doubt there is a regular season game in any sport that gets as much attention as this game does.”
“I was asking Jeff what the attendance was, I think he said mid-40,000”, said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who walked through the stands and said he believed the sight lines would be quite good. Donald Fehr, the former head of the MLB Players Association who now runs the NHL’s group,” said the scene “will have an intimacy.”
McDonagh called the Classic “a great experience for players; I was fortunate to play in the one in Philly (in which the Rangers beat the Flyers 3-2 at Citizens Bank Park in 2012), and you know the whole league is watching. You get a family skate and a practice the day before to soak in the (atmosphere) the day before, and you just take in the (weather) conditions as it is.” McDonagh also skated in the outdoor games between the Rangers and Devils and Rangers and Islanders at Yankee Stadium in late January 2014.
The Sabres, who played in the first Winter Classic in 2008, were chosen rather than one of the Rangers local rivals. “The Islanders and Devils are great franchises with great histories and important parts of the league,” said Bettman, “but this is also a nationally televised game, and there are a variety of considerations that we had to weigh.”