For most of the Colorado Avalanche, playing hockey outdoors evokes memories of the early days, before the competition became serious enough to move into a rink designed for the game.
Not for Matt Nieto. The Long Beach, California, native had already been drafted into the NHL and scored a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before ever taking the ice outside.
So, when his opportunity came in the 2015 Stadium Series--playing for the San Jose Sharks against the Los Angeles Kings at Levi's Stadium--the fact that the game was held in his home state made it even more special.
"I grew up in California, so I never got to play outdoors at all, out on lakes or ponds," said Nieto, who was in his second season at the time of the game. "That whole experience, and being able to do that in the state of California, was really cool for sure."
It was just the second outdoor NHL contest held in California, a year after the one played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles between the Kings and Anaheim Ducks in 2014. The matchup in Santa Clara was 57 degrees Fahrenheit at puck drop, the second warmest regular-season outdoor game that had been played up to that point in the league.
Nieto logged 12:39 of ice time at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 21, 2015, in the Sharks' 2-1 loss to the Kings, a familiar foe for the next time he plays hockey outside.
He will have a chance to play in another such "home game" when the Avs meet Los Angeles at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Stadium on Feb. 15. Nieto is looking forward to the opportunity, but he mostly hopes his team will ultimately pick up the points in the standings this time.
"Ultimately, the most important thing is the two points," Nieto said. "But I think everyone is just going to soak it in, have fun, and just work hard for one another.
"There are so many people at the stadium to watch the game and it's a whole different feel than the Pepsi Center or a regular arena," he said. "So, all of those things, along with playing outside in the mountains, will just be really cool."
The outing at the Air Force Academy is bound to be cooler than his first taste of outdoor hockey, and the pomp and circumstance of the pregame ceremony and in-game elements are bound to be memorable.
"I'm not sure what they have planned for the national anthem and things like that, but I'm sure they'll do something pretty cool and unique that a lot of us haven't seen before," Nieto said. "So that's exciting too."