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BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

When it comes to the Heritage Classic, Flames Equipment Manager Mark DePasquale follows that old adage: Always Be Prepared

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Environment Canada's forecast for Saturday in the Queen City is cloudy and a high of plus-2.

Not that the Flames' long-standing head equipment manager doubts the veracity of the venerable government agency, understand, but, well, why take chances?

"People ask: 'Why do you prepare for the worst?','' asks Mark DePasquale.

"Well, back in 2011, when Kipper stepped in to mess up his crease the way he used to, he chipped the ice all the way down to the cement.

"I thought we were in trouble.

"If you remember, the day before the game, which was Feb. 20, all of a sudden a chinook arrived and we were told it was going to be plus-5 or plus-10. Then overnight it changed to minus-20.

"And it was … cold.

"The game was at 4 so we had the tinted visors for the guys, so when the sun set, they switched. We've got those tinted visors again. Will we use them with this game starting at 8? I don't think so.

"But - and this is the point - we were ready, we are ready, for whatever."

 

 

DePasquale worked his first outdoor game that late afternoon/early evening, the second such Heritage Classic, a 4-0 Flames' trimming of the Montreal Canadiens in front of 41,022 hardy souls huddled inside McMahon Stadium.

His second arrives Saturday at Mosaic Stadium on the Regina flatlands versus the Winnipeg Jets.

DePasquale began to plan for the unique opportunity the moment he heard rumblings - not upon official confirmation, mind you - that the Flames were indeed in the mix once again to take it outside.

"You're trying to determine: Who are we playing? Where are we playing? Who am I calling? It's just a different beast, right? Chicago goes to Notre Dame, Detroit goes to the Big House. This is a Canadian game between two Canadian teams, smack dab in the middle between the two cities of the two teams.

"We try to make the guys feel at home. The dressing room is already stickered-up Calgary Flames.

"We have all the cold-weather gear you could ask for. We have hand warmers, toe warmers, eye-black stickers with the Flames logo on 'em, toques … You name it, we've got it.

"I've been watching Regina weather for a month. Look" - when DePasquale fires up the weather app on his cell phone, the Sasky provincial capital is one of the cities that instantly appear.

 

 

No detail is deemed too small. No aspect of preparation given short shrift. Right down to the coaches' headgear.

"I remember seeing the Tommy Ivan fedoras, and they were great,'' DePasquale says, smiling. "These are kind of a cross between the fedora and a cowboy hat. I did some homework with the last ones - Quenneville didn't wear anything, Babcock had the fedora going.

"Tree wanted a cowboy hat. Hate to break the news to him but it's gonna be a cross. Looks nice, though.

"Then if the temperature gets too cold, them being above the glass, we have the toques."

The sheer volume, and variety of gear required for a game of this nature and magnitude, is quite staggering, really.

"Look at the carts here,'' he says, indicating three outside the hallway down from the big double-doors adorned by the Flaming C, top-heavy with boxes. "That room" - the old national team dressing facility - "is full of stuff, too.

"Some might deem it unnecessary. But this is a true event. Something we hope families attending will remember. You're going to get to see our white jersey and it looks awesome. I'm a visuals guy, a details guy, a colours guy. I think our vintage red jersey will give the Blackhawks' red a run for its money.

"Yeah, really.

"Hey, I was there, in Chicago, 15 years and here 14, so …"

 

 

For DePasquale and sidekick Corey Osmak, the challenges in such an enterprise are many. Besides the fickle weather, they're moving into an unfamiliar venue. 

"But the major difference between 2011 and now is that from Regina, we go out on the road,'' DePasquale points out. "This is not like the last time where we set up, win a game, have a couple beers or a couple hot chocolates - because it was minus-20 - and we're done."

The Flames' travelling party chartered out Friday afternoon to Regina, where they're listed as the visiting team.

"There's just so much to this event. We land in Regina, team picture, practice, family skate - I've got all the kids' skates with me, we're going to bring, so the families don't have to carry them.

"The stuff I need is going on the plane. The stuff we need later is going out on a truck Friday because when the game is over, we've got to put our black pants on, and send the red pants home, the red gloves home.

"If it was a one or two-game trip or two, you could probably call ahead and get away with it, get permission. But we're gone for another four after Regina."

Four sets of keepsake jerseys are fashioned for each player: One each for the league, team, the NHLPA and the player himself.

"All tagged with the game date so they know they're game-used, authenticated,'' DePasquale explains.

"I did make up a few single jerseys for possible call-ups who might play if something happens to one of the guys who are here now. Your (Artyom) Zagidulins … anybody on the bubble. Made one. But if there was to be a change, I'd be rushing to make another three.

"So I'm just gonna hold my breath and hope everything stays status quo."

Making this Heritage even more memorable for the guy everyone at the rink knows as 'Depo' is that wife Kelly and the twins are making the trek to Regina.

 

Video: "It's pretty special to have them here."

 

"My family's going to be at this one, so I get to share it with them. That's special. There may not be another one for 10 years, right? My son broke his collarbone, was going to play his first game Saturday but they're holding him out one more game so he's able to be there, too.

"Last time he skated at the family skate, in 2011, it was cold but he had a great time. Had a balaclava on underneath his helmet. He would've been about six. He probably doesn't remember it.

"But now, these are the ages where they remember moments like this."

Preparation is nearing an end.

Showtime approaches.

"Yeah, behind the scenes it takes a lot of work,'' agrees DePasquale. "But let me tell you, when it goes down, when that plane flies over our heads at national-anthem time, you look up and see the stadium is full, the lights go on and we're all standing up and ready to go?

"It's gonna be pretty damn cool."

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