If an organization has hopes of playing in a future NHL Winter Classic, signing goalie Ty Conklin
would be a good start.
It's quite obvious now that the NHL can't stage an outdoor game without the guy.
"I guess not," the Detroit Red Wings
goalie told NHL.com, laughing. "Not the first three anyway."
Starting with the Heritage Classic in Edmonton in 2003 and going on to the new tradition of the NHL Winter Classic, which began last season in Buffalo and continues New Year's Day in Chicago, Conklin has become the League's outdoor game veteran.
He was Edmonton's goalie at frigid Commonwealth Stadium and he manned the crease for Pittsburgh last season at snowy Ralph Wilson Stadium. Detroit coach Mike Babcock hasn't named a starter for this year's Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 at Wrigley Field, but Conklin is an option after signing a one-year deal with the Wings over the summer.
"I'll talk to Conks about it for sure," Babcock told NHL.com, "and the guy who is playing well at that time is the guy who is going to play."
Conklin, who is 1-1 in outdoor games, laughed when it was brought up that a team needs only to sign him in order to be included in an outdoor game.
"I guess maybe I'm just drawn to those teams," he said.
Still, he swears his signing with the Wings on July 1 had nothing to do with the rumors that Detroit and Chicago were slated to meet at Wrigley Field exactly six months later. Conklin said he didn't realize he would be a part of another outdoor game until August.
"I'm sure I probably knew, but I didn't even realize it until a month after I signed that we were playing in the outdoor game," he said. "Six different teams have played in the outdoor game and I have been on three of the six, so maybe I'm moving around too much. But, I have landed in some good spots. I have been fortunate."
You think? There are many guys in the League that have never had the chance to be soak in the pageantry of an NHL outdoor game while Conklin is going to get his third such experience Jan. 1.
But Conklin doesn't believe any outdoor game experience matters in playing these games. You just never know what Mother Nature is going to offer on gameday.
"They're so different so I don't think there is anybody that is truly an expert," he said. "The weather could be minus-10 or it could be 40 degrees, so how do you prepare for all that stuff?"
He does, however, know the good and bad about playing outside.
For instance, Conklin said it was easier to play through the Buffalo blizzard than the Edmonton chill. It was in the 30s and snowing in Buffalo, but minus-20 in Edmonton.
"I know what it was like when it was really cold and I know what it was like when it was right around freezing," he said. "Certainly it's a lot more comfortable when it's around freezing."
He added that the snow storm during last season's game actually favored the goalie, which is why the score was so low. Pittsburgh won, 2-1, on a Sidney Crosby
"The ice made it tough for guys to make plays," Conklin said. "When it was cold you saw a lot of ice chunks and the ice actually got a little bit brittle, but of course you didn't have to deal with the snow. Standing in the net when it's minus-18 or whatever it was in Edmonton, you'd rather be a forward being able to move around to warm up."
Conklin said lighting can be a factor, "but for the most part last year was pretty good. You had the natural daylight, but it wasn't too bad. It was cloudy, so it wasn't overly bright. If it was a bright day it would have been different."
Depth perception wasn't a problem either.
"I can't really remember having a hard time finding the puck," Conklin said.
Last season's game in Buffalo turned into the perfect made-for-TV game with the snow coming down, a military flyover and renowned Irish tenor Ronan Tynan performing the God Bless America, and one of the League's leading superstars scoring the shootout winner to cap the historic afternoon with a Hollywood finish.
Conklin expects the pageantry to be the same at Wrigley Field.
"I don't see why it can't be," he said. "It's at Wrigley Field, which, you know, I mean, is Wrigley Field. It's a pretty well-known venue. That in itself is really cool. In addition, it's in what is really becoming a hockey-crazy city. Everybody in Chicago is pretty excited about that team.
"I don't see any reason why it couldn't be, why it shouldn't be, and why it won't."
We should trust the guy. He knows what he's talking about.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org