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Posted at 3:26 PM ET, 01/ 1/2011

How the Caps and Pens spent New Year's Eve

By Dan Steinberg

(By Toni L. Sandys - TWP)

While the hockey fans who filled downtown Pittsburgh Friday night were making merry at midnight, many of the hockey players were, well, not. Like Eric Fehr. For example. You want crazy? Buckle up.

"I wasn't even watching the ball drop," said Fehr, who never left the team hotel. "I just looked at my phone, it said 12 o'clock, and I said Happy New Year to Jeff [Schultz] and I went to bed. He said Happy New Year back. There was no hugging. It was actually from across the room. I don't even know if we made eye contact."

That's...well, that's what professional hockey players do. Brooks Laich said he can only remember one New Year's Day in his six years with the Caps in which he didn't play a game. Pens Coach Dan Bylsma suggested that New Year's Eve is not a holiday that hockey people are used to celebrating.

"I was sleeping at 11:15, and probably would have been if it was the 2nd," he said.

Indeed, if you were looking to fill 600 words with tales of hockey players ringing in the New Year, well, you'd better come up with another idea, and quick.

"I was with my family," Max Talbot said. "We hang out, we give a midnight kiss, and, you know, Happy New Year's."

"I was in bed before New Year's," Karl Alzner said. "I don't even think I was watching TV. I was on my iPad."

"I woke up when I heard some fireworks and stuff going off, but no, I didn't," Craig Adams said, when I asked if he was up at midnight. "I was just dead tired. We usually go to bed before that. So we were ready to turn in."

"I didn't go anywhere," Mike Knuble said. "We're not going anywhere. I mean, we're here to win a game. And it's fun -- we had a lot of people over, a lot of friends came to the hotel to hang out a little bit. You want to have some fun with them, but they all cleared out. They want to go out and have fun, too. You're a downer on them, you know? We're the downers that had to stay in. They wanted to get out of there, head out on the town."

So that was exciting. No, I wasn't able to ask any Russians whether they were similarly boring. But in addition to detailing numbingly dull New Year's Eve celebrations -- "our kids were there so I kissed them good night and everybody goes to bed," Knuble said -- players also said they didn't have any more night-before jitters than they would before a normal January game.

"I had a fine sleep last night," Brooks Laich said. "Today's a regular game day. Maybe a few more people around, but I wasn't stressing, wasn't up all night. Just trying to win a hockey game."

"I'm not nervous with games in general," Kris Letang said.

"I think about the game I have to play before I go to bed every night," Talbot said.

"It's important in terms of obviously the fans and the media surrounding it, and obviously a lot of fun for us, but it's still a regular season game," Adams said. "It's not Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals or anything like that. There is a difference."

"I don't want to build it up too much and have any added nerves or anything," Alzner said. "So just kind of go about my business and not worry about it."

"Obviously with everything that's going on, everything in the city, the buzz, your friends calling you, they're all pumped up to watch it, obviously it's a little bit more," John Carlson said. "But you've got to bring yourself back down to earth."

Indeed, the coaches seemed much more willing to explore the ways in which this isn't just another game, just another two points in the standings.

"I would say that yesterday was unique in a way I've never experienced about a game coming up," Bylsma said. "Put aside playoffs, put aside my first playing game, first coaching, some of those firsts, this was a unique day unlike any other that was really enjoyable. Great day. From watching the alumni game to the experience of the field, outdoors, the practice, really really like a day I've never had before. Put it away when we went home, but looking forward to coming that rink tonight."

"In the scheme of things it's two points, but I think on the whole, it's a big thing for hockey," Bruce Boudreau said. "It's a big game for the sport. That's why we're hoping the weather cooperates and we get it in and all the hype that's been there, they get to see a great game, and the potential chance to see for people that were casual viewers or people that didn't look at the game at all, get a chance to see it and say jeez I might want to watch this sport a little bit longer, or get my children involved in that. We understand the whole two points thing, but I think anybody that understands what we're trying to do or what the NHL is trying to is build the game up, understands also that it's more than just two points."

By Dan Steinberg  | January 1, 2011; 3:26 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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