When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers took their rivalry outside for the 2017 NHL Stadium Series, current Colorado Avalanche players Ian Cole and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare faced off on the ice as well. Cole and the Penguins took the eventual 4-2 victory in their home city and earned bragging rights over Bellemare and the Flyers.
On a cold Feb. 25 day in 2017, the two teams met at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh where 67,318 fans came to cheer on their respective clubs of Pennsylvania. As a member of the visiting Flyers, Bellemare remembers the crowd well.
"It was unbelievable," he recalled. "I was with Philly and it was in Pittsburgh, so you have to understand that the mentality was everybody is against us. It was just an unbelievable feeling getting into the stadium, something like 70-80,000 people just booing at you. It was unbelievable. It actually snowed during the game too, so that was unbelievable."
Despite the high number of fans rooting for Pittsburgh, Cole remembered just how far away they really felt from the ice.
"It's kind of weird that the fans are so far away, especially in a football stadium," the defenseman said. "The fans are so far away that the depth perception is weird. When you're looking at a puck on the glass and there's just a whole bunch of empty space behind it, it's kind of trippy actually. But I would say that's probably the biggest challenge, or maybe like the glare from the lights if the puck goes up in the lights on a high flip or something. For the most part, it's pretty much the same thing."
Both players recalled how momentous playing outdoors really felt, especially in such a large football stadium. For Cole, the experience in the elements brought him back to his childhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
"It was awesome," Cole said. "Just the outdoor game, the whole atmosphere, it's pretty incredible. It's kind of a dream come true for every kid that had an outdoor rink or played at a pond or anything like that, so it's a ton of fun and I know I cherish any opportunity I get to play in an outdoor game."
Though Bellemare never had a chance to play outdoors growing up, he stated that the whole experience made him feel like a kid again.
"It was kind of a special moment from the get-go because I am from France and I never had the possibility to skate outdoors, so that was actually my first time putting on skates and going outdoors," Bellemare said. "To be honest, I feel like it takes you back to being a little bit like a kid. You know when I grew up you think about Canada and playing outdoors on a lake, and it kind of felt this way. So like for me, it reminded me of all of these ways of playing hockey and becoming a pro. Now I'm playing a game outdoors in front of so many people in the best league in the world, and it was just the coolest memory really."
The only thing the two disagreed on about the outdoor experience was the weather, which was officially 36 degrees Fahrenheit with some wind at puck drop.
According to Cole, the day prior was hot, but the game itself was the perfect temperature.
"The day before for practice it was like 70 degrees," he remembered. "It was so hot and so miserable, it was like the easiest walkthrough, pre-game skate and it was like hot, like I felt like I was going to pass out. I wasn't doing anything hard even. But then the next day it ended up being snowy and like 20 degrees, so it was like perfect for the game. It ended up being awesome. It was cold but not too cold, and it was perfect. Couldn't have been a better situation."
Bellemare, on the other hand, recalled a very cold game day, but one that he appreciated playing in and helped motivate him to stay in the league.
"First of all, it was cold. It was really cold, but it's just such a cool feeling," Bellemare said. "The biggest thing I remember is talking to myself after and telling my family, 'This league is fun. This is quite unbelievable.' It took me such a long time to get to the NHL and look what I am doing now, I'm playing in an outdoor game. I just remember thinking to try to make sure I stay in this league, because it's a lot of fun."
The two will head outdoors again in their NHL careers, but this time as teammates when the Avalanche faces the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 15 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 2020 NHL Stadium Series.