Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Kris King spent parts of four seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, so he knows all about the passion of hockey fans in Manitoba.
That fans were excited Saturday morning to check out the ice-making truck for the 2011 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic during its cross-country tour did not surprise him, but the positively balmy February weather sure did.
"It is only -2 [Celsius] here today in Winnipeg, which is very, very unusual," King said. "It certainly wasn't this minus-2 temperature very often [when I played] -- I can tell you that. I got off the plane yesterday from Toronto and I thought we had landed somewhere else."
Patrons of a Canadian Tire in northern Winnipeg had the opportunity to see inside the NHL's mobile ice factory -- a 53-foot long trailer that is making its way across Canada to Calgary for the Heritage Classic on Feb. 20.
King suited up for 260 games for the Jets from 1992-96, and had a chance to interact with some of the fans who filled Winnipeg Arena during his playing days.
"Just talking to some of the fans this morning, it is very obvious they are still very passionate hockey fans," King said. "They love their Moose, the American [Hockey] League team here and they're doing very well this year.
"I think that's the reason why during my 15-year career I loved my time here so much, was the fans. They all love the game, and certainly that has come back to light for me this morning getting to talk to some of them."
King grew up in Hornepayne, Ontario, a small town about 660 miles north of Toronto and spent time playing hockey outdoors like the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames will do at McMahon Stadium. His home rink in Hornepayne didn't have a roof, so everyone played outdoors there.
He eventually moved closer to Toronto to a place near Lake Muskoka, and spent many days out on of the lakes or ponds in that region.
"We had a lot of winter to deal with and a lot of that was playing hockey," King said. "I think any kid who grew up in Canada had a similar experience. I think that's why, when our players get involved in one of these things, they are so excited about it."
King also has a unique perspective on how far the NHL has come with its outdoor games. He played for the New York Rangers in a preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1991.
"We played in the parking lot at a place that is famous for its boxing matches," King said. "That was really tough to say the least, as far as the conditions of the ice. There were also the bugs that came in at night when the lights were on.
"What this ice machine can do -- and we all know it is unique and there isn't another one like it in the world -- we can build ice and good-quality ice just about anywhere. When you open these doors at these events and you show people that it is an entire ice plant inside a truck that is 53 feet long, it kind of blows their minds. They have plenty of questions and I hope I am giving them the right answers."