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NHL Heritage Classic

Flames, Jets ready to get down to business in Heritage Classic

Players enjoy practice at Mosaic Stadium, begin to focus on winning outdoor game

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- Although winning the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic will be the biggest goal for the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets when they play at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN1, CITY, TVAS2, NHL.TV), memories to be made at the 28th NHL regular-season outdoor game were at the top of the players' minds at practice Friday.

"The spectacle is awesome," Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk said in the stadium that is home to the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders. "It's neat. It's different. It's going to be so much fun.

"Playing outdoors is something you look forward to. I remember when I was young, always watching the Winter Classic. That was something that I thought was the coolest thing ever. So to get to play outdoors is awesome."

 

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The first NHL outdoor game in a neutral Canadian city is in the province, Saskatchewan, that shares an eastern border with Manitoba, the home of the Jets, and a western border with Alberta, the home of the Flames.

"It's going to obviously be a big deal for the area, for the province," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "The two teams are kind of meeting in the middle. So it sets up to be a pretty cool atmosphere just because it's locally a big deal, and I think also for our community and also for Calgary, it's a big deal.

"People will do a couple of things in particular to keep warm out there, so it'll be a pretty rowdy crowd and it'll be fun."

It was sunny and mild, with temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, for the teams' practices. For the game, the forecast is for the temperature to be just below freezing for the opening face-off, with strong winds from the northwest and a chance of snow flurries.

Winnipeg will be the home team for the game and will have the last line change. If the wind is deemed to be a factor on the ice during the game, the teams will change ends 10 minutes into the third period and halfway through overtime, if it is required.

Video: SAP breaks down the 2019 NHL Heritage Classic

The Jets (5-6-0) are coming off a 1-4-0 five-game homestand. The Flames (6-5-1) have won four of their past six games.

Players from each team said they'll be all business when it comes to game time for the Heritage Classic, but it won't stop them from soaking up the atmosphere in the city and the dressed-up stadium that holds 33,350.

"Every time you can get out there and play outside, it brings you back a little bit," Calgary captain Mark Giordano said. "We had some fun out there today in practice, but tomorrow it will be all business.

"When I was growing up, we actually had a lot of practices outside with our AAA team and stuff like that. Those were the best days. Playing with your buddies at the park or in your backyard and stuff like that. Those are the memories you have. A lot of fun."

Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey was born and raised in Calgary, but his grandparents lived their entire lives in Saskatchewan, and his father was born and raised in the province.

"It's definitely a spectacle, but as soon as the pucks drops, it's an NHL game with two points on the line and a big game in the standings," Morrissey said. "But at Christmas growing up, my grandparents gifted us Riders jerseys and hats. They were season ticket holders through the years ... and it definitely means a lot, a lot of nostalgia for me to come back here and be in [the Roughriders locker] room and play here tomorrow."

Attentiveness will be a big thing come game time, Flames coach Bill Peters said. He said he understands there are natural distractions for the participants in an outdoor NHL game. He cited the 2014 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Michigan, between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, when he was an assistant with Detroit.

"[The players] know how important (the points) are for us," Peters said. "The first TV timeout I had when I was in the Big House, we talked to the players and they were attentive, but in the second and third [periods], they were [gazing around], 104,000 people and snow coming down. ... I think it's important in these games that you get everybody going and keep them engaged. There are factors. The wind's the biggest thing for me. But if you manage the puck and play the game properly, you'll be all right.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Spectacular venue. It looks great. It's just fun to be part of these outdoor games, the Heritage Classic."

Video: Mosaic Stadium gets set for 2019 Heritage Classic

The grandness of the stage and all its distractions puts the Heritage Classic and the other NHL outdoor games on a different level, Jets coach Paul Maurice said.

"You get out in the open air, and it's just better," Maurice said. "It's a better way to practice, and it brings you right back to all of the things that are great about the game. And it's also pure, in that for everybody in this room that ever had skates on, it's what we all share.

"I'll never know what it's like to be like Blake Wheeler and play in the NHL and skate like that. But we all share that, boys and girls, outdoor rinks. It's a wonderful way to grow up."

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