Before joining the NHL or the Colorado Avalanche as teammates, defensemen Samuel Girard and Ryan Graves played against each other at the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Winter Classic in January 2015.
Girard and the Shawinigan Cataractes hosted a back-to-back outdoor game series, winning 4-2 against the Victoriaville Tigres in the first half of the set on Jan. 23 and falling 3-2 in a shootout to Graves and the Quebec Remparts in the second half on Jan. 24.
The contests were held in Saint-Tite, Quebec, at Grandes Estrades, an outdoor rodeo arena and a much smaller venue than the one that Girard and Graves will play in for the 2020 NHL Stadium Series at Falcon Stadium.
All teams in the QMJHL Winter Classic were able to practice outside prior to the game in order to be better prepared for the conditions and the experience of playing in a more natural setting.
"We practiced outdoors once before that, but nothing is really different," Graves recalled of the preparation. "The game itself is different with tougher ice conditions, and you're outside and it's cold. There's nothing different beforehand, but it's fun."
Between outdoor practices and the first half of the back-to-back set, Shawinigan was prepared to play outdoors against the Remparts in the Quebec cold.
"We had a couple of practices before, so we were prepared a little bit," said Girard. "It's hard to adjust yourself on the ice, it's a bit harder because back in Quebec it's so cold, so the ice is so hard and it broke fast. I don't know how the ice is going to be at Air Force, but probably a little bit better than in Quebec where it's so cold. It's going to be a fun game."
The Cataractes fully experienced the Canadian winter conditions in the first matchup against Victoriaville, as heavy snow flurries required frequent shoveling breaks throughout the game.
"I remember in the first game on Friday it was snowing a lot, so that was a little bit special," Girard recalled. "We're not used to that because we play inside usually, but it was fun to see all of the snow and all of the people too."
While Girard notched an assist against Victoriaville, Graves scored the tying goal for the Remparts in the second period to help Quebec in its eventual win.
"[Scoring] was cool," Graves said. "It was a cool game; it was my first time doing it. We played it this like rodeo arena, so it wasn't like a football arena or a baseball stadium--the fans were closer to us and it was cool. It was a cold day. It was a cool experience, my first time doing it outdoors, so I'm looking forward to this time."
Both players were quick to remember just how different the outdoor spectacle was from anything that they had experienced before.
"I mean it was fun," said Girard. "We're used to playing inside, so it was a little bit different but it's nice. I think it's going to be different; in Shawinigan we had a couple thousands of people there, that was pretty fun. We had a lot of fun. I just think it's a moment in your life that you aren't going to forget so you have to enjoy that."
"We got dressed in a school that was like 15 minutes away," Graves recalled. "We had to bus to the rink where we had a little makeshift dressing room with a heater and stuff. Just very different, but you're excited to play and it's fun. So it's a different aspect of the game and it's fun."
When he looks back on the game, Girard remembers more about spending time with his team than the final scores.
"Just to be with the guys and enjoy that moment, that was a moment that I think all of Shawinigan will never forget," Girard said. "The organization there, I remember, we posed for a lot of pictures in the room at 2020 Stadium Series logo Los Angeles Kings the event. It's going to be a fun moment for the Colorado Avalanche too at this outdoor game, so this will be fun."
While they were on opposing teams the last time they met outdoors, Graves and Girard are excited to head back outdoors together as teammates when the Avs face the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 15 at the U.S. Air Force Academy.