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Taking it outside

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – A lot has happened since the inaugural NHL Winter Classic was staged back in 2008. Michel Therrien still remembers the unique event like it was yesterday, though.

“There were small snowflakes coming down. If Walt Disney had written a script for that day, it probably would have played out just the way it eventually did,” explained the Canadiens’ head coach, who found himself behind the bench for the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time.

Michel Therrien remembers the 2008 NHL Winter Classic like it was yesterday.

The scene was set for a memorable contest. It was January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. The Penguins were going up against the hometown Sabres. An astounding 71,217 fans were in attendance to ring in the New Year in style outdoors, and they witnessed a close contest from start to finish.

“It was the ideal scenario. We ended up in a shootout. The NHL’s young sensation at the time, Sidney Crosby, managed to score the game-winner,” recalled Therrien, who saw Colby Armstrong open the scoring for Pittsburgh just 19 seconds into the first period. “It was the first game of that type ever played, so we didn’t really know what to expect. Everybody was excited to play. It’s one of the best memories of my coaching career. It was magical.”

With that in mind, Therrien is hoping to make a brand new set of lifelong memories come New Year’s Day 2016 when he takes part in the Winter Classic for the second time as the Canadiens battle the Boston Bruins on January 1, 2016 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA.

“It’s a great showcase for the NHL and both organizations involved. There’s a great rivalry between two Original Six teams. Everything’s in place for it to be an interesting game,” mentioned Therrien, who has 11 years of coaching experience in the NHL ranks on his resume. “This time around, we’ll be playing outside so it’ll be even more interesting. It will be special. The big winners in all of this are the fans.”

Trading in his suit and tie for a parka and boots come early January, Therrien, 52, admits that the experience of coaching a Winter Classic takes him back in time, especially when he’s running the practice leading up to the game.

“It brings your childhood memories back. The majority of us played on outdoor rinks growing up,” recalled Therrien, who spent his childhood playing on outdoor rinks in St. Leonard. “I did it, and I’m sure that a ton of players did the same thing. After school, we’d break out our skates, go outside and play hockey.”

While the Winter Classic is special for the players, it’s also exceptional for the coaching staff, who, unlike their troops, don’t necessarily move around as much during the game. With that in mind, is Michel Therrien planning on sporting at least a light sweater to fight off the cold?

“It depends on the temperature that day,” cracked Therrien, who is generally dressed to the nines behind the Canadiens’ bench. “I remember that we had foot warmers in Buffalo, but it also wasn’t that cold. I might have to wear an extra layer of clothing, but everything should be fine.

“It’s a special moment, a moment that the guys will remember for a long time. I still remember it well. It’s an even better memory if you win, though,” concluded Therrien, who is hoping to maintain a perfect record at the Winter Classic.

To be continued on January 1, 2016.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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