ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Gary Roberts pulled his 41-year-old legs out of his skates in the warmth of the visitors dressing room at Madison Square Garden.
The mere thought of playing a real NHL game outside in the elements of Western New York on New Year's Day suddenly shook him from his comfort zone. The "Winter Classic" is just days away, and the longtime veteran's list of preparations consists of one.
"Yeah, how I'm going to get out of it," he said, causing an eruption of laughter from his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates.
Come Tuesday, the Penguins will hit the ice at Ralph Wilson Stadium to take on the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL's first outdoor game in the United States and second overall.
On a frozen field made more for Jim Kelly's passes than Sidney Crosby's, a hockey rink has been under construction since last Sunday, right after the Buffalo Bills finished their home NFL season.
The goal posts came down, the crown in the field was leveled, and the transformation was well under way for the event that came together with only about six months of planning. The other time the NHL played a real game outside was on Nov. 22, 2003, when the Montreal Canadiens went to Edmonton to take on the Oilers in the subfreezing temperatures of Alberta.
That event, dubbed the "Heritage Classic," came off after three years of prep work. It was a smash hit, from the ski cap on the head of Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore, to the visible breath of players as they raced up and down the ice.
Roberts has done pretty much everything in an NHL career that has lasted more than 20 years. He has lifted the Stanley Cup, scored more than 50 goals in a season, and been an All-Star several times. Now he will experience something completely different.
The early forecast calls for a 33 degree day with a chance for snow showers.
"It doesn't really interest me. It's outdoors. It's too cold for me," he said. "I played a charity game outdoors in Hamilton in a football stadium during the lockout. We got about 30 mile-an-hour winds, we had rain.
"Will it be fun? Sure, it'll be fun, but you just hope it goes over as well as they expect it to go over. That's all."
Judging by the quick sale of tickets, it already looks like a success. The expected crowd will be approximately 73,000 for the opening faceoff shortly after 1 p.m. The crowd should be quite into it following New Year's Eve celebrations and a football-style tailgate party in the parking lot.
When 42,000 tickets went on sale back in September, they were gone within 30 minutes.