The 2003 Heritage Classic might have been the only time in the career of forward Jason Chimera
where being benched wasn't all that bad.
"It was just so cold and the benches were nice and heated, so it was definitely the place to be," Chimera told NHL.com. "I wasn't playing all that much back then, so it worked out anyway, but it was borderline playable because it was so cold."
Well, that is until Chimera, who was playing for the Edmonton Oilers
at the time, got into a scuffle with Montreal's Francis Bouillon
at the 12:58 mark of the third period.
"The penalty box wasn't heated so that was a bad place, for sure," Chimera said with a smile.
Chimera, now in his second season with the Washington Capitals
, recalls the penalty as if it were yesterday. And rightfully so, as it isn't too often you get the opportunity to play a professional hockey game in minus-22 degree weather in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in front of 57,167 crazed Canadians.
But that's the exact scenario Chimera found himself in on Nov. 22, 2003, when the Canadiens defeated the Oilers, 4-3, in the first regular-season NHL game played outdoors. The game offered even extra incentive for Chimera, who was born and raised in Edmonton, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 1997.
"It was in my hometown so it was cool … I had between 300 and 400 family members and friends in the stands and because it was the first of its kind to happen for the NHL, it was great to be a part of it," Chimera said.
The eight-season NHL veteran even offered a bit of advice to those players preparing for the 2011 Heritage Classic pitting the Calgary Flames
and Canadiens on the campus of the University of Calgary on Feb. 20.
"You never know what the weather will be like in Calgary -- could be hot or cold," Chimera said. "But they just need to enjoy it and, if at all possible, find someone familiar with the player locker rooms. We had the Edmonton Eskimos' football guy with us so he helped us out with what to wear in the cold and gave us Under Armour and things like that to keep the heat inside."
Chimera's team was also able to warm up between periods in the Eskimos' locker room, which was also heated. Of course, that made it tough walking to the rink for the start of the next period, something most of the players dreaded because of the near-freezing temperatures.
"It had to be cold for people sitting there, for sure," Chimera said. "The goalies were forced to switch their gloves every whistle because their pads were getting cold. For the players, it wasn't bad if you were coming on and off a lot, since your adrenaline is going."
Team trainers and equipment managers were also vital to operation.
"Yeah, they came in pretty handy," Chimera said. "It's certainly different from rink to rink, but when you're outdoors, it's totally different. Those skates need to be sharpened the right way and your body temperature must be right."
Chimera, of course, will be appearing in the second outdoor contest of his career on Jan. 1 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh when the Capitals face the Penguins. He's looking forward to the contest but doesn't think he has an advantage over anyone else despite his familiarity with the great outdoors.
"Well, maybe a little bit of an advantage since I know what to expect, but the fact Pittsburgh has played in an outdoor game (in 2008) and most of that team will be involved in this one, they might have the edge," Chimera said. "I've given the guys some advice, but I know it's not going to be as cold as it was in Edmonton, that's for sure. It'll be fun. Anytime you get an opportunity to be a part of something different, it's awesome."
Particularly in the week leading up to the game, something Chimera remembered in Edmonton.
"It was huge in Canada," he said. "That's all anyone talked about. It was sold out a couple of hours after it was announced. A lot of celebrities came into Edmonton and that's something that never really happened before. There were big parties; it was almost like a movie premier event during the week leading up to it. It was a big celebration and guys were pumped up for it; it was a lot of fun."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale