Nazem Kadri has become something of a regular at the NHL's outdoor spectacles. The game on Feb. 15 between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings at the U.S. Air Force Academy will mark the fourth time in his professional career that he's played a live hockey contest in the natural elements
For Kadri, he's always going to jump at the opportunity to play in such an arena.
"No, never," he said when asked if playing outdoors ever gets old. "I played in the biggest one in history out there in the Big House in Michigan, with the snowfall outside. It brings you back to the old days."
That Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on New Year's Day in 2014 housed the largest crowd at an NHL game in history. Over 105,000 fans at Michigan Stadium saw Kadri's Toronto Maple Leafs beat the de facto home team, Detroit Red Wings, 3-2 in a shootout.
Kadri was in the midst of his first full NHL season at the time, and he logged 15:55 on the ice in that game. He also contributed two shots on goal while also adding a block, a hit and a takeaway.
However, he mostly remembers the weather, the part that most glaringly distinguishes this game from all the others. With snow flying throughout the contest, it was the part that "brings you back to the old days."
"Obviously ice conditions can be a little bit challenging, but you adjust your game plan accordingly," said Kadri, noting that the teams also had heated benches to warm up between shifts. "Once you get moving a little bit, you kind of figure out the elements. In the first period, [the play is] a little bit timid because of the conditions, but that's how I grew up loving the game so I always enjoy playing outside."
His second opportunity came exactly three years later on Jan. 1, 2017. The Centennial Classic featured a rematch between the Original Six Maple Leafs and Red Wings, and again the Leafs prevailed in extra time, winning 5-4 in overtime as Kadri had a game-high six shots on goal. The biggest difference this time was that Toronto hosted the game at Exhibition Stadium near downtown and offered a different backdrop.
"Beautiful, sunny day, clear evening, very mild temperature," recalled Kadri, commending the ice crew on their maintenance and adding that the NHL has done a great job organizing all of these events in his experience.
His most recent go-round was March 3, 2018 when the Leafs played the Washington Capitals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, the NHL's first outdoor game held at a service academy. The Caps--who had current Avs players Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer on their roster at the time--won 5-2. Kadri scored a goal in the loss.
The military-themed pageantry--replete with fireworks, a flyover and even a model fighter jet near the rink--left a lasting impression and completed a truly unique NHL experience for Kadri.
"It was a nice little tribute to everyone who's served," Kadri said. "I think a lot of soldiers who were a part of the military and the Navy were at the game. So that was also cool, and I think that they had a whole section. We paid our respects, they got to watch a good hockey game, and it was a great event."
As special as these outdoor events are, Kadri said the outdoor elements can affect the quality of play at times and weather spikes aren't exactly conducive to how the game is known indoors. Pucks jump a little more, Kadri said, and the sun's glare can make certain adjustments difficult.
"But at the end of the day," Kadri added, "any opportunity I get to play in one of those games, I'm 100 percent taking it."