Barry Melrose Needs A Beer, And Other Observations From The Behatted And Be-Styxed Winter Classickatiebakes1/04/11 6:00pmFiled to: HockeyNHL Winter ClassicNhlPittsburgh PenguinsWashington CapitalsTop701EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkOur puckhead has returned from Pittsburgh with inside information on Dan Bylsma's hat, an autographed photo of Styx, and the lasting image of Barry Melrose waiting in beerless frustration at the bar.AdvertisementI was at a bar near Heinz Field at around 5 p.m. on Friday night when the league announced that the Winter Classic would be moved from 1 p.m. to an 8 p.m. start time. I got the press release in my email and turned to a couple next to me that was decked out in black and yellow jerseys and Mardi Gras beads, likely having come from the fan events being held near the ice. "They moved the game to 8," I informed them, but of course they already knew. So did the bartender. It was like they had some next-level phone tree in place at the bar."More time to recover from New Year's!" I said, and the woman nodded her platinum blonde head thoughtfully. "Yeah, that's true," she said. "But now it's gonna be a looong night for us." They were planning to drive to Cleveland after the game to catch the Steelers the next day. These people do not mess around.AdvertisementBut neither, to their immense credit, do Caps fans, who drove into town in droves. All weekend long they were out in full force despite being the visiting team; the league reported that 30,000 tickets were sold to DC supporters. In all, 68,111 fans braved shitty weather and faraway seats just to be part of the experience.And it's quite an experience indeed. The Winter Classic is sometimes described as having a Super Bowl vibe, but the relative stakes of the two games aside, there's another key difference. People watching or attending the Super Bowl would never utter phrases like "Oh, this is so great for the game!" or "Wow, what a coup for the league!" But for hockey fans who have long endured "hoc-key?"-level zingers and smirking references to NHL ratings being down there with the tractor pull, seeing nothing but hockey jerseys filling a football stadium was a legitimate point of optimism and pride. And EVERYONE was wearing hockey jerseys, seriously. I'm half-convinced they came along with the ticket.The Caps and the Penguins may be the most heated of rivals, but outside the rink there was a hockey-first jolliness to most fans' behavior. I particularly enjoyed Caps owner Ted Leonsis's comment: "The highlight for me was two sections filled with Caps fans and Pens fans and they looked at each other and they started chanting 'Flyers suck.' It's like they bonded around something."SponsoredIt's the pushing him down that really ties the attack together: On the other hand, there were reports, via @worstfan, of at least one attendee who wasn't filled with that old Winter Classic charity. Disco Dan Draper: Hockey fashion has long been a minor obsession of mine — a good friend in college once accurately summed up the stylings of our friends on the team as "the mustard shirt with the mustard tie." You see a lot of waxy fabric and pinstripes, is all. But Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, appearing pregame on television, took things in a whole new direction, donning a Trilby hat and a long black coat as if he were the lovechild of Don Draper and Gordon Bombay. (The leather varsity jacket the league made both coaches wear during the actual game sadly diluted the look.)I didn't want to be that chick living up to the stereotypes and pestering the losing coach about his hat after the game, but I did strike up a conversation with a few guys on the HBO 24/7 crew. A day earlier I had asked a few players if they'd miss the cameras, and several, including the Capitals' Niklas Backstrom and the Penguins' Ben Lovejoy said that they would at least miss the people behind them. (Brooks Laich, not so much: "I'm a hockey player, not an actor," he whined.) In his post-game press conference Bylsma said that he and the team had been comparing the crew's departures to the goodbyes that occur when a player is sent down to the minors.AdvertisementAnd so I shouldn't have been surprised when HBO sound recordist Edward O'Connor knew the backstory of the hat."My birthday was Dec. 19, and we were cutting through an airport," he said. "And a camera man bought me a very similar hat. And when the coach saw it, he took it off my head, looked at it, and said: 'Too flashy. Something more subtle.'"And yet," he continued, grinning, "with all due respect, his was a litttttle bit flashy. It had some sort of band around it." I agreed that I had definitely noticed some prominant stitching. "He's a litttttle bit of a fashion plate," O'Connor said. "He wanted to look like Lombardi."AdvertisementDid he know where the coach got it? "No, but I'll bet you that it's probably in that same stall at the airport," he said.Also, he calls EJ Hradek "Eej," which of course he does: Speaking of hockey fashion, there's something so NHL-ily perfect about meeting a friendly Deadspin reader and some of his friends at the hotel bar after the game and suddenly finding yourself being introduced to a man wearing a loud gray striped suit and loud red striped tie, and the introducer saying, "Katie, this is Barry."Oh, hello, Barry. Barry MELROSE. The ESPN fixture and onetime-L.A. Kings coach (I choose to pretend Tampa Bay never happened) has been the most recognizable face in hockey media for nearly two decades — or at least the most recognizable mullet — the kind of guy your mom would comment upon when she walked into the den.It was both wondrous and weird. I always think of Barry Melrose as a part of my youth, as somehow forever trapped in the amber of that mid-'90s glowing-puck, Brett Hull, expansion-team era that had been the NHL's closest brush with a mainstream heyday until the more homegrown, Original Six, retro-jersey, appeal-to-the-NBC-Olympics-crowd growth of the last several years.The slow death march of time carries on. Jeremy Roenick has transitioned from one of the most fearsome video game athletes in history to a judge on Battle of the Blades — a Canadian game show that is basically Dancing With The Stars meets The Cutting Edge. (I've only seen the first two episodes, but was terrified to see what has become of former favorite P.J. Stock.) Wayne Gretzky has gone from the sports greatest ambassador to someone who plays golf in Palm Beach live on NBC on the day of hockey's biggest showcase. I kid, kind of — this was Mario's turn to reluctantly shine.