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Conklin could be the first to two

by John McGourty

Ty Conklin may be the first goalie to play in two outdoor NHL games.
Now that he's back in the NHL, and winning, Ty Conklin has a chance to play goal in the first two NHL outdoor games.

Conklin was the Edmonton Oilers' goalie back on Nov. 22, 2003, when they played the Montreal Canadiens in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium before 57,167 spectators in minus-20F weather. The Canadiens won, 4-3, as their goalie, Jose Theodore, played part of the game with a tuque over his goalie mask.

The Penguins will meet the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium on New Year's Day at 1 p.m. ET in the first NHL outdoor game to be played in the United States. The game will be seen on NBC in the U.S. and CBC and RDS in Canada.

One thing is for sure: It won't be nearly as cold in Buffalo, according to the seven-day forecast. In fact, it could be as much as 40 degrees warmer. The forecast calls for daytime temperatures well above freezing through Monday, then dropping into the low 20s on game day.

Back in Edmontion, the Canadiens and Oilers had heaters on their benches, though that wasn't much comfort for the goalies.

"It wasn't quite as warm in goal as it was on the bench," Conklin laughed. "What made it cold for me was the wind. They let me go to the bench at every whistle, if I needed to do. I could change my gloves if I needed to. It wasn't too bad."

Conklin, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, who went to college at the University of New Hampshire and married a girl from Central Maine, isn't afraid of the cold and dressed much as he would for a normal game, except for a full-length neoprene body suit.

"My socks weren't that much different and my feet did get cold," Conklin said. "Normally, I just wear long underwear underneath, but I had a full-body neoprene suit. It was about an eighth-inch, maybe three-sixteenths, thick, like a diving suit. It did the trick. I wasn't nearly as cold as I thought I was going to be.

"It was tough to get up a sweat. The body suit was just enough to keep me cool or keep me warm," Conklin said. "I pour water on myself usually. I like to be soaked, going out on the ice. I just like the feel of it, more than being dry."

Both Commonwealth Stadium and Ralph Wilson Stadium have architechtural characteristics that enhance the wind inside the bowl. Commonwealth Stadium has two openings at each end, on the side of the end-zone seats, while the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium is situated 50 feet below ground level. Wind enters the stadium at the scoreboard end of the field and drops down to ground level, making it the most difficult stadium for NFL kickers.

The wind during the Heritage Classic made it feel at least 10 degrees colder. Buffalo experiences similar wind-chill differentials. Conklin didn't feel that either the temperature or the wind made a difference in the outcome of the Heritage Classic.

"It was the same for everybody but I wasn't moving around and that makes it colder," Conklin said. "Guys on the bench said they felt good until they went out and skated a shift. By the end of their shifts, they were ready to get off and get back to the benches. Standing there wasn't as bad because I didn't get all that wind in my face. On the other hand, just standing there, I wasn't creating any heat.

"Both ends of the Edmonton stadium had openings," Conklin said. "There wasn't a lot of wind, but there was enough of a breeze. It was just cold out, below zero. I drank water and Gatorade at the bench, pretty much what I normally drink. I didn't drink a lot that day, nothing warm."

The Penguins have struggled this season, mostly due to an NHL-worst 4-10-1 divisional record. They are in second place in the Atlantic Division with an 18-16-2 record for 38 points, despite giving up a division-leading 108 goals. The Penguins have scored 103 goals. The Sabres are 19-14-1 for 39 points and are in fourth place in the Northeast Division. Buffalo has scored 110 goals and surrendered 96.

If the season ended today, both teams would qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Conklin's Oilers were on a winning streak before the Heritage Classic, but struggled afterward and missed the playoffs by two points. The Canadiens, however, showed no effects from the game.


"We were playing pretty well, but we struggled after that," Conklin recalled. "I don't know if that game had anything to do with it. I don't think it did. It was a neat experience, neat to be part of it but it didn't feel like an NHL game. You try to prepare for it, but I don't know if you can.

"It was just so much different, especially the hype around it," Conklin said. "We tried to treat it like it was a normal game, but it was different."

Conklin played through the end of the 2006 season with the Oilers, then signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was traded to the Buffalo Sabres last season and signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer.

Conklin was 11-7 in the AHL with a 2.21 goals-against average and .919 save percentage when he was called up Dec. 6 to Pittsburgh to replace the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. Danny Sabourin played the first few Penguins games that Fleury missed, but Conklin made 12 saves against the Philadelphia Flyers, in relief of Sabourin, on Dec. 11, then beat the Boston Bruins on Dec. 20 and Dec. 23. He is 2-0 with a 3.73 GAA and an .895 save percentage.

"He's a competitor. He's proven he can play in this league," said Penguins Senior Advisor/Hockey Operations Ed Johnston, a Stanley Cup-winning goalie. "Look at his record. Mechanically, he's very sound. His angles are good. I was down in Wilkes-Barre for five games and he was terrific. What I like about him most is that he's a competitor."

One with the opportunity to grab the designation as the first NHL goalie to appear in both the League’s outdoor ventures.

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