CALGARY, AB -- With the Heritage Classic justdays away, the Calgary Flames coaching staff's preparation for their battle with the Montreal Canadiens has amplified greatly.
"It's certainly different as far as circumstances," said head coach Brent Sutter. "You've got busing to game, dressing room facilities, just the whole thing is different."
An outdoor game presents several challenges for the coaching staff. Sutter singled out aspects like how the sunlight could affect players and how the team will adapt to the new rink settings. The team will practice at McMahon Stadium on Saturday to get their bearings and Sutter believes that practice is key if they want to have success on Sunday."All the surroundings are certainly different," was his response to why that practice is important. "We'll need to get used it. It's not a lot of time but it's the same for both teams."
With a completely different setting, the game takes on a whole new meaning to both the players and coaching staff but Sutter insists that as soon as Sunday rolls around, it's just another outing they need to earn points in.
Both clubs are fighting to keep themselves in a playoff spot and Sutter said neither club can afford to sit back in the slightest.
"We know that once the puck drops, we've got to be focused and our (mental) preparation leading into that game is no different than any other game day."
Many staff members involved in the preparation for the Heritage Classic have reached out to their counterparts around the NHL whose teams have recently participated in outdoor games. With all of his focus on keeping his club prepared for their nightly battles to remain in the postseason picture, Sutter hasn't been able get much more than small talk in with other coaches.
"Usually they talk about the weather," he smiled. "It's mostly been the weather and the whole atmosphere around it."
For many players, playing on an outdoor rink isn't a concept their familiar with but Sutter spent the majority of his childhood playing hockey outdoors.
"When we were playing minor hockey, Viking had the only rink that was indoors in the league," he stated. "When you went to go play in their towns, it was outdoor rinks.
"Both teams would shovel the snow off the rink before we'd play. Those are great memories and the fact that you used to be out on the sloughs ... if you had a full moon, you'd love those nights because you could skate all night long because that was your light. On weekends, Mom and Dad would leave us out there as long as we wanted to stay out there."
While the importance of the game needs to remain in his players minds, he and the rest of the coaching staff want them to be able to soak in and appreciate the day.
"I want everyone to enjoy the experience. You never know when you're going to get another opportunity to do it. I want everyone to enjoy it and have fun with it."
The Flames will don entirely new equipment and jerseys for the game but they won't be the only ones sporting new apparel. Sutter wouldn't give away what he and the coaching staff will be wearing on game day but he did pinpoint one article of clothing spectators won't see.
"No fedoras," he laughed. "The organization has got some stuff. We'll be alright. We'll be looking good."