They may be two of the youngest guys on the team, but P.K. Subban
and Max Pacioretty
will have tons of experience to draw upon Sunday when their Montreal Canadiens
face off against the Calgary Flames
outdoors in the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.
That's because Subban, 21, and Pacioretty, 22, spent significant chunks of their respective childhoods skating outside.
That obviously doesn't make them unique among NHL players, but there aren't necessarily too many out there who had the outdoor game influence them to the extent it has both Subban and Pacioretty.
As a child growing up in Toronto, Subban would be woken up by his father Karl when he finished teaching continuing education classes late in the evening to take him to Nathan Phillips Square, where midnight shinny attracted a nightly crowd.
Subban was in kindergarten at the time and his half school day would begin in the afternoon, so he would play until he simply couldn't go anymore –- sometimes as late as 3 a.m. –- and then fall back asleep on the car ride home.
"It's going to be awesome, I am so looking forward to it. It's going to be unreal. I mean, no offense, it'd be great if it was in the States, too. Places like Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, they've all relished that. But let's be honest, in Canada, it doesn't get better than that."
-- P.K. Subban
"It was a lot of fun," Subban said. "As a kid I remember looking forward to it, going to bed with my snow pants and my skates on, then waking up to him pulling me out of bed and taking me to Nathan Phillips Square. I owe a lot of my success to this point to him."
Pacioretty didn't have quite the extreme experience growing up in New Canaan, Conn., but he, too, can trace his first steps towards an NHL career back to an outdoor rink.
His beginnings in hockey are rooted at the New Canaan Winter Club, an outdoor facility with an extensive youth hockey program where Pacioretty played competitively for years.
And his league games back then –- just like the one coming up this Sunday –- were played outdoors.
"When school ended I would go to the rink and stay all day, probably until 8 o'clock at night," Pacioretty said. "On days off and weekends I was there from eight in the morning until nine at night, my dad would bring me breakfast, lunch and dinner there. So I have a lot of experience with playing outside."
The Canadiens have a few other players with experience in outdoor games.
–- who hopes to be back from a shoulder injury in time for Sunday's game –- played in the original "Cold War" game with the Michigan Wolverines against rival Michigan State in 2001. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek
played in the first Winter Classic with the Buffalo Sabres
in 2008, and fellow defenseman James Wisniewski
played in it the year after with the Chicago Blackhawks
at Wrigley Field. Spacek will not make an appearance in the 2011 Heritage Classic, however, as a recent injury has ruled him out of the Canadiens' West Coast trip.
But for a grizzled veteran like defenseman Hal Gill
, this is a case of teaching an old dog a new trick.
He played a bit of outdoor hockey in a pond behind his house growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, though he admits he doesn't really have any classic memories of that time.
"You had to walk and carry your bags and tie your skates out there," Gill said. "And you had to look for pucks in the snowbanks out in the woods. That's what I remember about it the most, trying to find another puck because you've lost 50 of them already."
Still, Gill is excited to go through something he hasn't done over a career that is creeping up on 1,000 games played.
"It's something I haven't done on a pro level, so it's going to be exciting for me, a new experience," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
He is also preparing for just about anything Mother Nature might want to throw at them.
"It could be hot, it could be cold, it could be freezing, it could be windy, it could be sunny, cloudy, sleet, hail, there could be a blizzard, there could be –- what do you call it? -– a chinook there. I don't know, have I missed any?" Gill said. "But playing with a nice, light falling snow would be classic."
Any conditions will work for Subban, who will likely conjure up some great childhood memories of playing at ridiculous hours of the night, all with an eye toward having an opportunity to play in a game just like this one coming up Sunday.
"It's going to be awesome, I am so looking forward to it," Subban said. "It's going to be unreal. I mean, no offense, it'd be great if it was in the States, too. Places like Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, they've all relished that. But let's be honest, in Canada, it doesn't get better than that."