I booked my hotel in Chicago almost 10 months ago, the very day they first announced that the Pens and the Blackhawks would play an outdoor game at Soldier Field. I was on maternity leave for the first Winter Classic, my father died a few months before the second one and I wasn't in the mood to do it without him, but this one was mine. I was going, come hell or high water. Or near-zero temperatures or snow.
I travel to Chicago for work pretty often. It's one of my favorite places in the world. Chicago is technically the second-largest Serbian city in the world - more expat Serbs live there than in any place in the world other than my hometown Belgrade.
I arrived reasonably early on Saturday morning. This is the view of Field Museum and Soldier Field from my hotel room. I knew it'd be cold and didn't want to trek too far.
I had most of the day to myself. I decided on a "quick" visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, and ended up staying nearly 5 hours (the kind of luxury I normally don't have on a business trip). That in itself pretty much made the whole experience worthwhile. It's an amazing place.
4:45 pm. Off we go. Out on Michigan Avenue, all you see are hockey fans.
A view north. Even gloomy and overcast, Chicago makes me happy to be there.
Millenium Park. Lots and lots of Pens fans.
Past Field Museum.
Obligatory photo of my daughter's favorite dinosaur. She's obssessed with dinosaurs, and not in the "normal" way most kids are. Fairly seriously.
Soldier Field from the north side. Occasional snowflakes are intensifying now. The event staff are doing a phenomenal job directing people.
Here we are. I arrived early enough to take in the field and that was a good thing because it got really crowded.
Me wearing pretty much the entire contents of my suitcase. I'm still chirpy and my lips can still move.
Another view of the field. It looks great, except the snow is really picking up.
Jersey fouls are everywhere.
The Pens come out for warm-ups.
The announcer introduces the Pens. Reasonable cheers.
The announcer introduces the Hawks. Everybody cheers.
By far the best moment of the whole evening, and perhaps the greatest moment I've ever experienced at a sporting event, was the national anthem. The crowd went wild, and Jim Cornelison absolutely killed it. But the whole stadium, all 69,000+, singing at the top of their lungs was what made it so special.
Final minute before face-off and the snow is dumping so hard that you can hardly see. The players are probably thinking to themselves, oh great, now it starts. I would have been better off on the upper deck with a bird's eye view, but hey.
This is a view from my actual seat in the second period. The Pens can't get out of their zone. I thought Crawford was going to pull a Lehtonen and just chill on top of the net.
Later on my fingers got too frozen to fiddle with the phone, but you get the idea, hopefully.
Was it worth it, considering the outcome? Yes, absolutely. I've never been to Soldier Field before and I've also never seen an outdoor hockey game, so I got to do both. I've been to so many games that in the end these things kind of even themselves out - you go for fun and experience rather than the end result, and because hockey is the greatest sport in the world to see live. It was really, really cold, though. Would I have liked a better (or perhaps smarter) effort by the Pens? You bet. The Hawks figured out pretty quickly that the conditions were not conducive to executing any systems and resolved to playing simple hockey, while the Pens kept trying to play their style, which was sadly lost in the snow and the shoveling. Anyway, it was a unique experience. Check one thing off that bucket list.