-- Twelve months ago, the NHL's inaugural Winter Classic was considered a home run.
On Wednesday at Wrigley Field -- just 24 hours before the home of Chicago Cubs will host Round 2 -- Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell
literally smacked one out of the park.
Just moments after Chicago took the ice for practice, Campbell -- who participated in last year's event as a member of the Buffalo Sabres
-- ripped a slap shot that went off the crossbar and then flew over the right-field fence. His teammates quickly raised their sticks and congratulated Campbell on the round-tripper.
"I didn't mean to, but it hit a crossbar and went flying," Campbell said. "That was my first home run, so I was happy about that. It made it over the fence."
Had it taken place during the summer months, it would have become a souvenir for a lucky fan. Although Cubs fans are famous for tossing back home runs hit by opposing players, no way would a fan throw back a Chicago home run.
"We hit it, so you don't throw it back," Blackhawks defenseman James Wisniewski
It was just an example of the fun the Blackhawks had Wednesday skating on the Wrigley ice for the first time in preparation for Thursday's Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 game (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM).
Certainly, Wednesday's practice brought back memories of the 2008 game between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins
at Ralph Wilson Stadium -- a game Campbell was lucky to be a part of.
"It's the same feel," Campbell said, looking forward to Thursday's showdown with the Detroit Red Wings
. "It's exciting. I think the atmosphere will be a lot more intense this year, just because it's so compact. The seats are closer, so it's not as far away."
While some players overdressed for Wednesday's practice at frigid Wrigley, Campbell knew what to expect. Because of his past experience, some of his teammates asked for advice on how heavy they should go with the underclothing.
"That's to be expected," Campbell said of the questions. "I don't think a lot of guys wore too much extra clothing today. If it's (sunny) tomorrow, it will be a little bit of a challenge. It's kind of like a pitcher in baseball or a hitter, dealing with going from the sun to the shade. I think guys felt comfortable out there. They'll adapt and see how they feel."
With a good chance of snow showers Thursday, it is unlikely that the bright sunshine that plagued practice Wednesday will be an issue. However, Campbell is hoping it won't snow as hard in Chicago on Thursday as it did in Buffalo 12 months ago.
"You had to change your game," Campbell said. "You couldn't take a slap shot from one end to the other. There was no way. The amount of snow out there was incredible. They had to resurface the ice halfway through the period. But the fans were loving it."
They'll love it again this time if the white flakes begin to fall on Wrigley. But if the longed-for flurries fall at the same rate as they did in Buffalo last January, the Blackhawks and Red Wings will be forced to change game plans -- something neither team wants to do.
"If it snows, it snows," Campbell said. "It looks great on TV, but there's snow all over the diamond. I think it looks like a winter wonderland out there. We'll be fine with it either way."
The biggest task at hand Thursday for the Blackhawks will be to avenge Tuesday night's 4-0 loss to the Wings at Joe Louis Arena. While the atmosphere at Wrigley will be sensational no matter what, the intensity between these division rivals at this intimate park should make it nothing short of electric.
"I think it will be a hard-hitting game," Campbell said. "I think last year (against the Penguins), there was some big hits in the game if you see some of the highlights. I'm not taking anything away, but it seems like the seats are a little closer this year. That may even help a bit more.
"It's going to be kind of like a playoff game. Guys are revved up for it. They want to show what they can do on national television as a team. I know we're ready for it."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.