CALGARY -- There were three things the Calgary Flames had concerns about following their practice at McMahon Stadium on the eve of Sunday's 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic -- the elements, the ice, and the distractions that come with playing in an outdoor game.
The temperature was about -17 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) when they took the ice about 2 p.m. local time. It's expected to be about the same for Sunday's game that starts at 4 p.m. local time, so Saturday's practice was a terrific opportunity to adjust to the cold.
For some, like defenseman Mark Giordano, the frigid temperatures weren't bothersome at all.
"Nope. It's going to be fun," Giordano said. "Most of the guys sucked it up pretty good. I don’t think the cold was really an issue."
For others, like captain Jarome Iginla, the cold air wasn't all that pleasant.
"I didn't think I'd need it, but I had to throw a toque on late," Iginla admitted. "It affected my helmet. I didn't really fit afterwards. I thought I'd be walking out and ready to go, but I'm a little softer than I was when I was younger. When I was younger, I'd be fine. Minus-15 was a nice day. I'm a little softer, so I had to throw some stuff on late."
Defenseman Robyn Regehr donned a Saskatchewan Roughriders knit hat for the practice that served two purposes -- it kept him warm and allowed him a measure of revenge against Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris, who claimed Regehr, a Saskatchewan native, was a huge fan of the Stampeders.
"So wearing the Roughriders hat in the Stampeders home stadium was Regehr's way of getting back at Burris.
"Henry Burris started it," Regehr said. "It's taken me a little while to get back at him, but I thought this would be a really good opportunity to do that."
The Flames had the second practice of the day, as the Canadiens took the ice at 11:30 a.m. The Flames spoke highly of the ice that NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig spent two weeks constructing, but said it was a little choppy near the end of their hour-long practice.
The players agreed the ice wasn't a cause of concern.
"The ice was great," Flames forward Olli Jokinen said. "No complaints."
There's no denying that while this is a regular-season game, the spectacle that is an outdoor game in Canada has presented a fair amount of distractions for a Flames team that has used a 16-5-4 run to climb to the ninth spot in the Western Conference standings. The Flames went through a normal practice Saturday, but there's nothing normal about the family skate that happened afterward. The Flames spoke to the media following their practice, but they did so in a CFL locker room that has been converted to accommodate a hockey team.
Forwards David Moss and Alex Tanguay stepped to the podium to field questions from reporters, something that never happens the day before a regular-season contest.
Keeping the Flames focused on what matters -- getting a win against the Canadiens -- falls on the shoulders of coach Brent Sutter.
"As a coach, you stress to your team all year long to play a certain way no matter what the circumstances are," Sutter said. "It doesn't matter where you're playing, what time of day you play, you've got to play a certain way. You got to expect something to be a little bit different in the game, but as far as preparation and the players are concerned, as far as structure, systems, whatever, it doesn't change."
It's a different stadium, a different locker room and a different atmosphere, but the Flames feel that even though Canadiens fans travel well, it's still a true home game for them.
"We're home. We sleep in our own beds. We got our fans supporting us," Jokinen said. "It's different, we're playing outside. But at the end of the day, the game is in Calgary and we got our fans behind us. We'll get our two points and move on."
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Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer