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Stadium Series: The Difference Is…

Jay Greenberg talks to players who have played outdoor games and what elements to expect

by Jay Greenberg @NHLFlyers

Just in case it doesn't stop raining by 8 pm Saturday night in Pittsburgh, Sean Couturier points to potential energy savings to make up for all the exhausting and futile efforts potentially expended by Penguins and Flyers in launching soggy pucks out of the surf.

"They won't need the Zamboni," smiled Couturier.

That would be a good night for the goalies for sure. But the weatherman says they need not strap on the goggles after all. If you can ever totally trust a forecast a Saturday issued on a Tuesday, the quarter-inch of rain that is expected to fall over Western Pennsylvania during the day is supposed to stop at night, after gusts of 40 mile-an-hour winds diminish, along with the temperatures down into the high thirties.

Last time the NHL played outdoors in Pittsburgh, the 2011 Winter Classic against the Capitals, there was some rain during the game, and the surface nevertheless didn't disintegrate into a total pile of goo. So, in the true spirit of every kid on any pond who ever forgot that he couldn't feel his feet anymore until Mom yelled out it was time for dinner, it will be Game On! for better or worse, through rain, cold and the gloom of night.  

"I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready," said Michael Del Zotto. "But unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors 

"You try not to over think it, just try to enjoy it because it's not something you get to do every year.

"Last time was pretty cool."

Easy for him to say. Del Zotto was on the winning side, the Rangers, in the 2010 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. The faceoff was pushed back two hours to 3 p.m. because of the sun and the temperature at game time was 41 degrees, with the wind chills growing considerably after sunset. The 46,967 didn't complain about anything except Danny Briere not being able to beat Henrik Lundqvist on a last-minute penalty shot and the Rangers, once down 2-0, hung on for a 3-2 victory.

"The ice was better than I expected," recalls Claude Giroux.

"Actually not really."

It is elementary, my dear Watson-either Joe or Jimmy. Both in the stands and on the ice, the charm of these outdoor games is in the braving of the elements.

"One thing I remember from it was going back on the ice from the heated bench and feeling the breeze before you could work up a sweat," recalls Matt Read.

Notwithstanding the two huge points on the line in a game against a hated rival, no player who has ever participated in a Winter Classic or Stadium Series game will try to tell you that once the puck drops, they quickly became oblivious to their unaccustomed surroundings. 

"You definitely know you are playing outside," said Brayden Schenn. "The fans are not on top of you but there are a lot more of them."

Said Claude Giroux, "It's a different game. You don't know the boards, don't know how the puck is going to react."

The rink is the same size, just doesn't feel like it. "Your vision is a little different" said Couturier. "Everything is spread out, more things can take your attention.

"Usually, it's like bubble hockey."

Usually, you don't need an oar to stickhandle through center. Hopefully these will not be required Saturday night. Coaches scream to dump the puck, in this case the next shift might have to dump the buckets, too.

"I'll bring an umbrella," smiled Steve Mason. In January, an American Hockey League game between Bakersfield and Ontario was played for two periods in a deluge but if the hockey wasn't great, it nevertheless was memorable to all in attendance.  

After all, that's why the NHL schedules a few outdoor games a season - to create memories.

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