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Canadiens getting excited as game time approaches

by Brian Hunter
CALGARY -- With all of 16 regular and postseason games under his belt coming into this season, P.K. Subban fits the definition of a rookie by NHL standards.

When it comes to skating in an outdoor game with two points on the line, though, as the Montreal Canadiens will do Sunday in the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic against the Calgary Flames, he'll have plenty of company as a first-timer.

"I was telling Scott Gomez earlier, I asked him, 'Have you ever been a part of a game like this?' and he said no, and I said, 'Well, I guess we're all going to be rookies Sunday,'" Subban said Friday after the Canadiens skated at the Scotiabank Saddledome. "He kind of laughed at it, but for a lot of the guys who have played in the League for a long time, this is their first time also playing outside. It's definitely going to be an eye-opener for all of us."

The Canadiens will practice at McMahon Stadium for the first time Saturday prior to the Alumni Game scheduled between members of the Montreal and Calgary teams that met in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1986 and 1989.

While playing an NHL game on an outdoor rink will be a brand-new experience, the general feeling of skating amid the elements is one likely to bring back a lot of nostalgia for players and coaches alike.

"It's a great opportunity to be part of the game on Sunday," coach Jacques Martin said. "I think it's an event that you can feel the excitement in the city. For myself, it brings a lot of memories as far as growing up, a kid on a farm, and playing outside on a regular basis."

As important as winning the Heritage Classic is for Calgary, which will enter play Sunday ninth in the Western Conference, it's also vital to Montreal as it enters the stretch run.

The Canadiens are battling the Boston Bruins for first place in the Northeast Division and home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They'll also be looking to get the bad taste from a 4-1 loss in Edmonton on Thursday out of their mouths.

It appears forward Mike Cammalleri and defenseman Hal Gill both will return to the lineup after they skated Friday and reported no problems. Gill has missed Montreal's last four games with an upper-body injury, while Cammalleri, who played for the Flames two seasons ago, has missed 12 straight with a shoulder injury. His return would add punch to an offense that has scored only three goals over the last pair of games.

"The offense is something that I think everybody in the League probably struggles to stay consistent with," Cammalleri said. "It ebbs and flows, but we've had some great offensive outputs and we'd like to have some more consistency, for sure, so I'm going to do all I can to contribute to that starting Sunday."

Cammalleri was a teammate of the Flames' David Moss at the University of Michigan and took part in the "Cold War" outdoor game against Michigan State in 2001. While that gives him some idea of what to expect on Sunday, many other players like Gomez grew up skating in frigid temperatures playing pond hockey in the winter and have faith in their abilities to handle the elements.

"The day it stops being fun is the day you should start looking for a new job. It makes it even more fun."
-- Scott Gomez

"It's all you did," said Gomez, who was born in Anchorage, Alaska. "You learned to skate outdoors, in the morning before school, after school. Every school, every park had an ice rink. That's where we learned the game. We were out there for hours and hours. I remember it being this cold out and guys wouldn't wear socks. You heat up pretty fast, I think people don't realize that. After a couple laps your body's going."

As much as each side talks about wanting to stay focused Sunday and the importance of the two points at stake, there's also the fun factor that plays into an outdoor game in front of more than 40,000 fans. Gomez, for one, didn't feel there would be any problem mixing business with pleasure.

"The day it stops being fun is the day you should start looking for a new job," he said. "It makes it even more fun. We need these points bad. When you're on the road, you look at the way Calgary's playing, it's a big challenge for us. It'll be the biggest crowd I've ever played in front of ... the main thing is getting the points and playing a good, solid game, but it's like anything in life, it's going to be a great experience and something we'll always talk about."

Subban, who handled the pressures of a run to the Eastern Conference Finals after the Canadiens called him up late last season, echoed the sentiments of Gomez.

"I'm just going to try my best to enjoy every moment of it," he said. "We're all professionals and I think we understand what's at stake at this point in the season. Every point is so important, so we understand that we still have to have that mentality, that we have to go out there and get points when we can."

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