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Winter Park practice brings out the smiles

Annual outdoor practice at Winter Park delighted the community and players alike

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

Blue Jackets Outdoor Practice

The Blue Jackets take practice outside on Friday

The Blue Jackets take to the ice outside for a practice at Winter Park on Friday

  • 01:41 •

The weather report Friday said the temperature was just 26 degrees and with 15 mph winds, it felt closer to 15 degrees, but that didn't deter hundreds of fans from coming out to watch what has become an annual outdoor practice for the Blue Jackets at Winter Park presented by Worthington Industries.

Just before noon, the players hooked their skates on their sticks and walked across the street from Nationwide Arena to McFerson Commons to take to the ice.

Along the way fans waited to say hello, or get a picture before filling the grandstand at the rink and spilling out into rings upon rings of people surrounding the ice.

Amidst the sea of Blue Jackets hats, coats and blankets, young children sat on their parents shoulders, and fans took to their feet and careened their necks all to get a better look at their hometown team.

"It was great," Sam Gagner said. "It just shows the support in the city for the team and it gives us an extra push. Today was a lot of fun, it was good to see everyone smiling."

The team went through a few drills before playing a mini 3-on-3 tournament under the watchful eye of assistant coaches Brad Shaw, Brad Larsen and Kenny McCudden.

For many of the players, being on an outdoor rink brought them right back to the moments that bred their love of the game.

"Early on we had a little backyard rink," Matt Calvert said. "It wasn't too big but you learn how to skate. And down the street was my school community center and I literally was there every day after school from four o' clock till dinner. And after I ate, I'd go back out till about 9 o' clock at night. Skating outside like this brings back a lot of memories."

PHOTO BLOG: #CBJ hit the outdoor ice at Winter Park

The practice was for fun more than anything. It was a break in the routine of game preparation and schedule. Cam Atkinson's dog even made an appearance on the bench, and fans oooh'd and ahhh'd over goals made, goals saved, and on-ice celebrations.

"The white team won," Gagner, who wore blue, said while laughing. "I think they were able to get some momentum from the wind in the second half there, it was a hard fought game."

Even though the sides kept score, nothing was on the line other than enjoying the experience. Especially for players like Lukas Sedlak who, growing up in the Czech Republic, didn't have many opportunities to skate outdoors other than at Christmas time when local ponds would freeze.

"I loved it, it was so much fun," Sedlak said. "Our line scored two goals so I'm fine with that."

And after practice was over, children flush with rosy cheeks and with parents in tow, excitedly asked players for a photo or an autograph. A lucky few got sticks from players. The joy of the community was palpable.

"On an outdoor rink is where you learn to play the game," Gagner said. "You learn to enjoy it and get the passion for the game. It brings you right back. It was a lot of fun out there today."

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