NHL Winter Classic Game on NBC a Go for Saturday Despite Threats of January Thaw

The puck drop is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday on NBC and Canada's CBC.

TORONTO -- Mother Nature may not be cooperating with the National Hockey League, but the pro hockey league is still going ahead with Saturday’s outdoor NHL Winter Classic game on NBC.

Defying predictions that a January thaw would force a delay of its midseason showcase, the NHL on Thursday said the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals matchup from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh will go ahead as planned at 1 p.m. Saturday on NBC and CBC in Canada.

“We’re planning to play at 1 p.m. We have maximum flexibility to get the game in on Saturday,” NHL COO John Collins said. “If the game is unplayable, we have other options on Sunday."

Such a one-day delay would put the Winter Classic on NBC against high-profile TV football games on rival networks. The New Year's Day hockey game is set to be played outdoors amid a predicted high of 10 degrees Celsius and rain showers Saturday afternoon. Collins said weather regularly figures in World Series baseball games or NASCAR stock car races on TV.

“It’s part of the passion of taking an indoor hockey game outdoors,” he said.

The NHL has always been prepared for all extreme weather possibilities with its high-tech outdoor ice rink in Pittsburgh, but predicted warm rain and wind threatens could play havoc with scheduling Saturday. NBC has given the NHL a seven-hour window to get the outdoor hockey game in.

At the same time, the league doesn’t want to keep 65,000 expected spectators at Heinz Field waiting for several hours in the rain and wind before the puck can finally be dropped on the Winter Classic. Concerns for player and spectator safety and the competitive integrity of the game will remain paramount as league officials and NBC continue to monitor weather radars ahead of Saturday’s game.

With Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin set to lead their respective teams onto the ice in Pittsburgh, the league is being careful to safeguard a rink full of high-salaried NHL players from possible physical injury due to a flooded ice surface.

“We don’t know what the weather will be. It changes all the time. Our plan is to go on air at 1 p.m. and drop the puck at 1:28 p.m., and to go from there,” Collins said. “If we have weather during the game, we’ll make adjustments. And if the weather threat really increases, and it poses a threat for the game and our fans, we’ll have to consider that."