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Hawks, Wings heating up before Winter Classic

by Brian Compton
If Saturday night was any indication, it won't be cold enough at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day to slow down the Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Red Wings.

It was business as usual for both teams just 12 days before they make history at the Winter Classic and turn a baseball cathedral into a hockey rink in front of a capacity crowd in the Windy City. The Red Wings rallied in the third period to earn a 6-4 win against the Los Angeles Kings at Joe Louis Arena, while the Blackhawks notched a hard-fought 3-1 victory at Vancouver.

Saturday's win followed Detroit's impressive 6-0 drubbing of the League-leading San Jose Sharks two nights earlier. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks' victory extended their win streak to seven games. It's their longest such streak since the franchise won eight consecutive contests from Jan. 4-21, 1981.

Even though the Blackhawks still have three games to play before the Winter Classic arrives, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville noted there is already a buzz growing within his team's locker room.

"It's great," Quenneville said. "Everybody's excited about it. It's going to be a special day. We've had two great games with Detroit already -- both overtime and both high-scoring. There's been a lot of action in the games. The guys are talking about it."

The Central Division foes will meet each other two nights earlier at Joe Louis Arena before heading to Chicago, where they'll get to skate on the Wrigley Field ice on New Year's Eve. While the game is sure to be both intense and historic, one of the biggest remaining questions will be the weather. Nonetheless, the excitement is off the charts.

"We're going to practice the day before," Quenneville said. "Who knows what the weather's going to be like. If it's like the way it's been the last week, it'll be cold and it should be fun."

While he hasn't experienced it in the NHL, playing outside will be nothing new for several players, including Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks' captain grew up in Winnipeg, where it's routine to play without a roof.

"We've talked about it quite a bit," Toews admitted. "I won't have any excuses, I guess. I'm supposed to be used to that. But it should be fun."

One player who knows that it will be fun is Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin, who made 22 saves in Saturday's win against the Kings. The Winter Classic will be his third NHL game outdoors, as he took part in last season's event with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Heritage Classic in Edmonton in 2003.

Conklin fully expects the 2009 Winter Classic to match the excitement that was evident last season in Buffalo, where the Pens earned a shootout victory against the Sabres.

"It's at Wrigley Field, which, you know, I mean, is Wrigley Field," Conklin recently told "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."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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