CALGARY, AB -- As the Heritage Classic draws closer, the anticipation surrounding the event grows each day but for the Calgary Flames team personnel, it's been a season-long process to prepare for the occasion.
"From ground up, it's like starting a whole new team," Flames head equipment manager Mark DePasquale told CalgaryFlames.com. "Everything from the helmet to the socks is different. You name the equipment and it's most likely different from our regular gear."
Given the incredible amount of work that goes into an event of such magnitude, DePasquale and his team have been preparing the Heritage Classic from the day it was announced. The first step in trying to organize the outdoor game along with keeping up with the Flame regular season needs was calling those who have been through the experience.
"I'm friends with the trainer in Pittsburgh and I was in Chicago for a long time so my friends in Chicago did the outdoor game at Wrigley Field," he said. "The day the game was announced, I called and said 'What do I need to do?' Ozzie (Corey Osmak, assistant equipment manager) and I have been on it since day one. When there's some time here, we put stickers on helmets or put the visors on. Anything we can do to ease the workload closer to the game, we've done."
That kind of organization has done wonders for the staff who, until the last couple weeks before the game, have had only a minimal amount of extra work added to their day.
"It is a lot of work but when you start out ahead of time and you're organized, it maybe only adds an extra half an hour a day of work. As long as you're on it and you talk to other guys and teams who have done it before, it's fine. You can't be afraid to ask what things were like. Everyone has been willing to help out."
Another factor DePasquale has to add in is the Montreal Canadiens gear. Since the event is not in an arena, the Flames crew has to ensure the Habs have a full set of equipment to work with at McMahon Stadium.
"Being that we're the home team for the Heritage Classic, we have to make sure Montreal has everything that they need. It would be like having a home game for them as well so they need everything from stick tools to glove driers."
In addition to a completely new uniform, the team has to prepare for the unpredictable weather in Calgary. As it stands, the Weather Network has predicted the weather is hover around 0 degrees, with a low of -9, on Feb. 20th but as anyone who has spent any time in the city knows, that could change drastically.
"In Calgary, you never know if it's going to be -5 or -25. We won't know that until that day gets here. You try to do the little things, the details that help your team perform much better on the ice. For instance, being a golfer, I bought golf hand warmers because I know they can last for 10 hours. When the day comes, we may not even not even need them but we need to have them on hand in case we do."
The NHL has been instrumental in ensuring both teams have exactly what they need, no matter what the weather conditions may be on the 20th.
"The league is providing an extra skate sharpener next to the bench. Montreal will have one in their room and we'll have one in ours but there's one in between the benches in case of an emergency. There's a lot of details the league takes care of being that they've held these events for awhile."
With only 10 days remaining before the Heritage Classic, DePasquale and his crew have had their workload intensified thanks to the Flames hectic schedule.
"We leave on the road on Friday after the game and when we come back, the game is already upon us," he said."We're going to start moving stuff as early as Wednesday or Thursday but of course with Abbotsford playing here on Friday, we need leave some stuff. We'll move our players gear on Friday after practice and set everything up so we're ready for practice at McMahon on Saturday afternoon."
Despite all of the time DePasquale will be putting in during the days prior to the game, he's looking forward to Feb. 20th.
"I feel that Sunday may be the easiest day out of all of them. On Sunday, being that there's no pregame skate, Ozzie and the rest of the us will be able to take it in and enjoy it because everybody says it's an experience of a lifetime."
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the Heritage Classic but as the Flames battle to retain a playoff position, the possibility of gaining two points is the main focus for the staff.
"For us, we're fighting for our lives and that two points so much so we're not going to miss any details to try and help our guys get two points."