The 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Coors Field won't be the first time that Colorado Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard will have suited up for an outdoor contest.
Pickard took the ice in front of a sold-out crowd at Frontier Field in Rochester, New York, on Dec. 14, 2013, for the Frozen Frontier—the sixth-ever outdoor game in American Hockey League history.
Pickard and the Lake Erie Monsters lit the lamp in the final second of the contest (literally with one second left) to force overtime in a hard-fought battle against the Rochester Americans. The meeting between the two teams went even further into the chilly evening as a six-round shootout determined Rochester as the eventual 5-4 winner.
“It was a fun and exciting game,” said Pickard, who faced 29 shots and held the Americans scoreless on three power-play opportunities. “We tied it up in the last second and lost in a shootout, but playing outdoors is pretty special and doesn’t happen every day. It was definitely a special moment for a lot of us on the Lake Erie Monsters, for sure.”
The temperatures were in the low teens and a heavy snow from the previous day blanketed the field. Pickard took extra measures to ensure he was ready to play in the winter conditions that night, using foot warmers in his socks and skates, hand warmers in his gloves and a ski mask under his helmet to keep him warm and loose.
“That night it was freezing cold and the wind was blowing,” Pickard recalled. “It was in Rochester so it was right on the lake, and there were a few times in that game where I didn’t get a shot for a while and I ended up getting pretty cold. You know you had to find a way to stay warm and mental is one thing, but that night it was freezing cold.”
The 11,015 fans in attendance stood packed inside the confines of the minor league baseball stadium and watched a thrilling show for two hours and 44 minutes as the two teams battled it out.
“I remember taking it all in,” the netminder said. “It was pretty interesting because it’s a far away crowd and whenever a team would score, it would be a two-second pause then all the fans would realize it was a goal. It was a little bit different than a crowd right on top of you. [An outdoor game] doesn’t happen very often, so it’s pretty special.”
While it was still just another game for Lake Erie, Pickard enjoyed the build up and excitement surrounding such a large-scale event on the hockey schedule.
“The practice day was a lot of fun,” he said. “We weren’t even sure if we were going to play because there was such a big snow fall when it happened. We were shoveling through snow trying to stick handle."
On game day, it was a snow globe atmosphere.
"Playing when the snow was falling during the game, that was pretty cool," Pickard said. "It just reminds you of when you were a kid, skating on the outdoor rink, and actually playing a game that means something was pretty special."
When the Avalanche takes on the Detroit Red Wings outdoors on Feb. 27, Pickard is hopeful for a day that’s not too warm, but certainly not as cold as the contest he played in two years ago.
“I think probably somewhere around 30, 32 degrees, right around zero Celsius, is what I would say would be bearable for sure,” the goaltender said of his ideal temperatures for playing outdoors.
What Pickard does expect for next weekend's outdoor contest is an intense and competitive game with some serious battles. He already witnessed that first hand in a meeting against the Red Wings last season at Joe Louis Arena. He made 33 saves as Colorado won in a nine-round shootout on Dec. 21, 2014.
“I had the chance of being a part of the rivalry last year playing at Detroit, and it was pretty cool,” he said. “Being in different conferences now you don’t play them as much, but the history is definitely there. The Avs and Red Wings had some serious battles in the regular season and playoffs. To be a part of that rivalry, it’s something else for sure.”
The game will be the first of its kind in Avalanche franchise history and while the weather forecast for the contest may not be as cold as the one Pickard experienced in Western New York, the spectacle in downtown Denver is sure to not disappoint.