If Detroit Red Wings
goalie Ty Conklin
had his way, the weather for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic would be overcast with little or no snowfall.
Then again, it probably makes no difference because the 32-year-old veteran has been there and done that.
Conklin will be making an unprecedented third-straight start in an NHL game held outdoors when the Wings play the Chicago Blackhawks
at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day.
He played for Edmonton in the Heritage Classic and withstood a wind chill that reached minus-30 Celsius during a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens
in 2003. As a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins
, he earned a 2-1 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres
in the first Winter Classic last Jan. 1 during a heavy snowfall at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
"The snow wasn't really that difficult for me when it started coming down last year," Conklin said. "The most difficult part at practice today was the sunlight. You can see why it's tough for batters to pick up the pitches when you're facing the sun; it was tough to see the puck."
Conklin will be making his seventh-straight start for the Wings Thursday. Chris Osgood
, who is still nursing a sore groin, will serve as his backup.
Both goalies took part in the afternoon skate Wednesday and came away impressed with the way Wrigley had been transformed into a hockey playground.
"It's tough to make ice outside like this and they do a great job, and you can't really account for the sun beating down on the ice and softening it up," Conklin said. "I thought the ice felt perfect, and I think it'll be fine tomorrow."
For the season, Conklin is 12-5-1 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. He has stopped 21 or more shots in each of his last seven starts while posting two of his three shutouts this season over that span. Conklin sparkled in a 4-0 victory over the Blackhawks Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, stopping all 36 shots he faced.
"I think 'Conks' did a great job for us," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of his goaltender’s play in the opener of the home-and-home series. "They outshot us 9-1 in the early going, had two power plays and two quality chances on our goalie but he allowed us to get settled down and going. We'll need that same type of play from him tomorrow."
Blackhawks forward Craig Adams
felt his team panicked a bit when Conklin shut the door in the early stages of the game.
"He actually looked a little shaky early on, but he kept the puck out of the net and then, after he settled down, he was awesome," Adams told NHL.com. "Obviously if we scored in the first 10 minutes, it might have been a different game, but credit Detroit. They kept their composure and they came out and they played a lot better than us in the second period. I feel when we didn't score in the first 10 minutes, we started to panic, but we can learn something from Tuesday night."
The experience Conklin received during two previous outdoor stints certainly has given him confidence going into Thursday’s game.
"I think from the first game (in Edmonton) to the second (in Buffalo), there was the biggest difference," he said. "In that first year, it was so new and exciting. In Buffalo, I was able to prepare a little more as if it were a regular-season game and it was a little easier to focus. This game against Chicago is an important game, and we'll focus on the two points that are available."
Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall
feels the chemistry between Conklin and this season Osgood has been fantastic.
"Conks has been playing well recently and we have a lot of confidence when either of them is in net," Kronwall told NHL.com. "They give us a chance to win every game, and when you have two goalies like that, it's huge. Conks came up with some big stops against Chicago on Tuesday to keep us in the game, and we were able to work ourselves out of it."
Said captain Nicklas Lidstrom
: "Conks has been a great addition as a backup for us and has played really well when Osgood went down with the injuries and has needed to take a night off. You have to have a certain mentality as a backup goalie; you have to be ready to play whenever your number is called. I can't imagine how tough that must be on a goalie, but he's been doing a tremendous job for us."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.