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For Canucks' Kassian, outdoor play rite of childhood

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- For Vancouver Canucks forward Zack Kassian, growing up in southern Ontario on the shores of Lake Erie meant building a rink and playing a lot of outdoor hockey every winter.

It also meant coming up with creative ways to maintain the ice.

"We built a rink every year," Kassian said. "We used to get out there with our shovels and clean it every night and then we'd even drill little holes so some water would surface to kind of re-flood itself."


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Kassian said they used a regular drill with a thicker, longer bit to drill deep enough into the ice each night that the pressure would force water up onto the surface and ensure a smooth sheet the next morning, effectively acting like Mother Nature's Zamboni.

"It took care of itself overnight," Kassian said.

Fortunately Kassian doesn't have to worry about maintaining the ice for 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). But the big wing is looking forward to being back outside and playing in the elements against the Ottawa Senators at BC Place.

For Kassian it brings back a lot of good memories of first skating on the lake when he was five years old and progressing to the more organized outdoor games that followed into his teens.

"We'd bring the lights out so we could play in the dark," he said with a big grin. "There's nothing better than playing outside all day and your mom calls you in to warm food on the table, or brings hot chocolate out for you and your friends. Those are the times you remember."

Kassian also remembers layering up to stay warm.

"I just used to have layers and layers and layers," he said. "A couple of sweatshirts and then the windbreaker was huge, and then three pairs of sweatpants and windbreaker sweatpants. But once you got moving out there, it wasn't too bad. You were sweating and it was fine. But once you sat down for a little bit it could be pretty tough."

Much like drilling holes in the ice, Kassian probably doesn't have to worry about breaking out the old K-Way windbreaker Sunday. Though a cold wind can whip down through the retractable roof at BC Place, winter wear technology has improved significantly since his early years outdoors. But even if it doesn't come with the same hardships as Lake Erie, Kassian says playing in the third Canadian outdoor game in the NHL will leave the same lasting impressions he has from skating outside as a kid.

"Whenever you play an outdoor game it's a different atmosphere, and just playing in front of more than 50,000 people, it's going to be cool," Kassian said. "That many people watching a hockey game, and having it at BC Place, it's probably going to feel a little weird, but it will definitely be something I will always remember."

Even without the drill and windbreaker.

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