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Canucks' Diaz recalls playing outdoors in Switzerland

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Raphael Diaz didn't just get traded to the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 3.

Diaz got dealt back to his youth.

The trade that sent the 28-year-old defenseman from the Montreal Canadiens also put Diaz into the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). It brought back memories of playing outside in his native Switzerland, as a child and a professional.

"When I was younger we played a lot outside, tournaments and stuff," Diaz said. "When the sun was shining you put on zinc -- what do you call it here? Eye black? The team manager was waiting at the door before you went out and everybody got a swipe under the eyes. If it was snowing or even raining, as a kid you just played and had fun."


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Playing outside got a little more challenging as a professional in the top Swiss League. Among the road games Diaz played during his nine seasons with EV-Zug was a stop against Hockey Club Ambrì-Piotta in a partially exposed arena built in 1959.

It took more than eye black to get through those games.

"During the winter it was so cold, and when the wind came in from the open end it was not so fun to play there," Diaz said. "You knew after that game you were going to be sick, so it was a little painful."

Diaz took to drinking tea on the bench to try to stay warm.

"During the periods I was drinking a lot of tea," he said. "Most of the time you want to have cold drinks, you are sweating, you are hot. But there during the period you had to warm up with some hot drinks."

Diaz isn't worried about needing any tea Sunday against the Ottawa Senators inside BC Place, which has a retractable roof and can produce cold, swirling winds when it's open. But some Canucks might turn to him for some advice on how to stay warm outdoors.

Though most Vancouver players grew up skating on frozen ponds, few have taken part in outdoor games as professionals. Ironically, the player that Diaz was traded for, forward Dale Weise, may have been the other player Canucks sought out for outdoor advice.

Weise, who grew up in Winnipeg and remembered skipping school to play outside, was planning to prepare for the Heritage Classic by revisiting some of his old outdoor haunts in Winnipeg during the recent break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Instead, the Canucks can turn to Diaz for tips, including what type of thermos to use for tea.

"No, I'm sure we won't need it," he said with a smile. "You just have to do the same warm-up, same routine, to get warm at the start."

With or without warm tea and eye black, Diaz is looking forward to playing in the Heritage Classic in front of 55,000 fans.

"It's really exciting if you can play in a big arena like that," Diaz said. "It's maybe one time in your life you can do something like that."

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