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Flames combine work, fun at outdoor practice

Calgary prepares for game against Rangers on Sunday by skating in Central Park

by David Satriano @DavidSatriano / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The Calgary Flames' practice Saturday was nothing like a routine off-day skate.

The Flames practiced at Lasker Rink in Central Park, with players and coaches getting dressed at the team hotel before shuttling to the rink in full equipment.

Video: Chad Johnson and Glen Gulutzan on practicing outdoors

"It was a different experience, for sure," goalie Chad Johnson said. "I had my pads on and everything sitting on the bus so I didn't do much moving. When I got up my legs were jelly but it was fun. To be able to do it at this level, in Central Park and see all these Flames fans and sort or do it for them as well, it's pretty special. It recharges the batteries."

Hundreds of fans, many in Flames jerseys, lined the outside of the rink on a perfect winter Saturday.

"I thought the atmosphere was great," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Obviously the rink isn't regulation size but we did get some 3-on-3 and a little skate in at the end and I think that's good."

Tweet from @NHLFlames: Fans waiting at Central Park. #flames are a big draw everywhere!

The Flames will be on the ice a few miles south of Central Park on Sunday when they visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden (2 p.m. ET; SN360, MSG, NHL.TV). They defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime at Prudential Center in Newark on Friday.

"A little bit more about having some fun but there was some work there at the end just to make sure we are prepared," Gulutzan said. "Every practice after a game is tough especially when there is a little bit of travel involved. You usually [practice for] 30 minutes, that's what we kind of went here, but wanted to kind of keep the good feeling going, too."

Forward Kris Versteeg is used to this kind of atmosphere. He played in two Bridgestone NHL Winter Classics (2009, 2015) and a Coors Light Stadium Series game (2014).

Tweet from @NHLFlames: On the ice in Central Park. #flames

"Here in Central Park -- this is actually the second time I've done this," Versteeg said. "Pretty sure I was here with the Florida Panthers [practicing], but it's always fun. It's a special experience. To be out here in the sun, playing hockey and all the people watching. It's fun for everyone."

It was a nice bonding experience for the Flames and their fans, but also involved a much-needed workout prior to the game Sunday.

"I think we're pretty dialed in to what we need to do as professionals," Versteeg said. "I thought we had a good pace today, a good practice. At the end we had a little fun. It's more so about getting on the ice before tomorrow's afternoon game."

Rookie Matthew Tkachuk also tried to balance work with pleasure.

"It's a little bit different," he said. "I think it was a different experience and it was fun getting out here and putting the skates on right away and going. ... We had a good skate at the end. Got a good little practice under our belt."

The Flames have won three straight games. They finish a three-game, five-day road trip Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We took a little bit of the scrimmaging, playing in an outdoor rink, banging our sticks and the 3-on-3," Gulutzan said. "That's stuff you did when you were kids and played outside. It's nice to go back there every once in a while and break up the monotony. It's a tough season. The NHL is 82 hard games. To have a day like this where we can be outside on a great day, it breaks it up."

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