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Bruins' Begin eager for more outdoor hockey

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Steve Begin remembers the pageantry of the Heritage Classic, the NHL's first regular-season venture outdoors six years ago. Mostly, though, the former Montreal Canadiens and current Boston Bruins forward remembers what everybody else remembers.

"It was so freaking cold," Begin told NHL.com. "Oh my God, it was unreal."

Indeed it was in Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2003. Close to minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit, in fact. Begin said he hadn't been that cold since he was a kid skating on the outdoor rinks in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec and his big toe literally froze, requiring a visit to the local hospital.

"We almost didn't play because it was so cold," Begin said.

Every meteorologist in the world would be shocked if the temperatures dipped that low in Boston on New Years' Day for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Begin, though, would be revved up anyway. He's counting the day until the Winter Classic.

During his interview with NHL.com prior to a recent game in Philadelphia, Begin mentioned four times how lucky he feels to get the chance to play in another outdoor game and how having already experienced these events has made him even more excited to play in another.

"I didn't think they would do other games like that and now you have got one every year and this year … I can't wait to play this one," Begin said. "It's a great experience in front of, I don't know, 40,000 or something like that. It's something special. You want to show up for that game and you want to experience that day. It's magical."

Begin already knows how an event like the one the NHL now annually hosts on Jan. 1 brings most players, especially the Canadians, back to the very core of their youth.

From the time he was 5-years-old until hockey got really serious at 15, Begin skated outdoors everyday at a local town-sponsored rink in Trois-Rivieres, pretending he was either Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. As he got older, he tried to be Mark Messier.

"Every day I was outside," Begin said. "Everyday I would come back from school, eat and go to the outside rink. I would be there the whole night, come back home, do my homework and go to bed. Every day I was there and I was so excited."

No coaches, Zambonis or really rules of any kind. The games consisted of just a bunch of kids playing, well, a kid's game. Begin and his boys didn't care if it was cold or snowing or if the ice was even barely playable by kid's standards.

"Some of the games would be pretty serious, but it was always fun," he said. "You start out five against five or six against six and you end up 20-on-20. It was always interesting how it went. You have no goalie really. There was a guy in net, but he really was just standing there."

Tim Thomas and Ray Emery, who in all likelihood will be the starters for the Winter Classic, probably won't just be standing there. If they are, we'll quickly see Tuukka Rask and Brian Boucher, their backups.

There also will be refs, rules and two Zambonis in the Winter Classic, but that won't stop Begin from feeling like he was back on that big ice in Trois-Rivieres, playing with his buddies and making up the rules as they go along.

He did it once in Edmonton. He feels lucky to have another chance in Boston.

"I remember the morning skate (in Edmonton). It felt like when I was a kid," Begin said. "Everybody was excited. Everybody had a blast, plus we won the game so it makes it an even better memory. I'm going to remember it for my whole life."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com